The Chicago Tribune is quoting an anonymous source claiming that a deal between Comcast and the Big Ten Network will be done by football season:
Comcast and the BTN are prepared to put nearly two years of bitter negotiations aside to announce a long-term partnership, the Tribune has learned. "For all intents and purposes, it's done," one source close to the negotiations said Sunday.
The plan is for the BTN to be included on basic cable for all Big Ten Country residents except Philadelphia, which will have access through the sports tier package. The exclusion of Philadelphia is interesting but not entirely surprising. As far as Penn State exposure goes it is definitely a bad thing. Besides costing PSU fans in the City of Brotherly Love an extra $5 a month, this isn't going to help reconcile the divide between the Big East and Big Ten followers. And for the rest of us (ie those outside of the "footprint"), we are in the same boat as Philly: sports tier bound. While I'd rather it be free I'm not going to get upset about this. I've spent money on far less valuable things.
The network's initial asking price was $1.10 per month per subscriber. Even with Comcast paying 70 to 80 cents, as sources indicated, that represents a massive cash influx.
This whole BTN rate situation has been grossly misunderstood. For the sake of keeping the facts straight, here is the BTN's offical word regarding pricing for the cable companies:
[re: how much will the BTN cost cable companies]
Under a dollar within the Big Ten's eight states, and about a dime everywhere else. Overall, the Big Ten Network's national average price to cable companies is about 30 cents. According to research by SNL Kagan, the Big Ten Network's in-market rate of under $1 is less expensive than 29 regional sports networks.
If this whole thing is true (and I'm hearing it now from multiple sources), this gets scored as a win for the BTN. While price obviously matters, the main sticking point has always been the conference's demand that the network be included on basic cable inside the eight state footprint. They get that here.
Comcast has always countered by saying that the BTN offered "second rate programming" and that they don't want to have to pass along a "Big Ten Tax" to a customer base that largely doesn't want this channel. This has, in my opinion, always been a very weak argument. There are already about 75 stations on basic cable line-up that I would never watch, yet the price of all of those networks is being pass along to me as a customer. We are talking about $0.30 per a subscriber, or about 1% of what I'm currently being charged to essecially watch ABC, CBS, and the ESPNs. In addition, cable companies have fought a la carte demands from congress furiously. That stance isn't consistent with the anti-BTN comments Comcast has flooded the newspapers with.
The irony of the whole thing is that what Comcast really wants is to charge the sports fans in their customer base an extra $5 for, and here it comes, sports tier channels that offer second rate programming that most of their customer base isn't interested in watching. This isn't about Comcast weary of paying for an additional channel, it's about Comcast having the opportunity to essentially increase their rates $5 and blame the BTN for the whole thing.
Either way, it sounds like the PR games being played on both sides are coming to an end. It's more football on TV, so everybody wins.