Last month, Mike Pegram published a detailed interview with BTN president Mark Silverman. Peegs just posted an in-depth interview with Bill Connors, the president of Comcast's midwest division (hat tip to a reader who shares a name with a former world leader). As usual, Peegs's prior experience in the corporate world shows. Read the whole thing. He knew what to ask. And Connors made some good points, particularly the minuscule ratings for the C list games that used to be on ESPN plus and now will be on the BTN.
I will take an example---a Wisconsin-Indiana game that will on average over the last few years when that game is on broadcast medium and remember that broadcast
signals are available to cable homes, satellite homes and to non-cable, non-satellite homes. A 100% footprint. That game has had an average rating of 0.6, not 6.0 but 0.6. That is the product that they are saying is analogous to and I will just use yesterday, the rating for Comcast Sports Chicago in a major market like Chicago or in Indiana where it is distributed, has a rating of between six and seven points. Also think that is a product that has the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago White Sox, the Black Hawks and the Bulls. It would take the Big Ten multiple years of aggregate viewing to equal the amount of people that watch Comcast Sports Network over just a few months.
Also, my previous theory about a mere price negotiation may not be accurate, or at least Connors doesn't want us to think that is accurate:
Q - So from your standpoint to get this done, either the BTN backs off the $1.10 number or agrees to digital tier in the midwest?From our standpoint it is just the forced expanded basic coverage. I can't speak for other companies, we can only decipher when other companies are spoken to about this but that appears to be the single issue with all the other companies.
Again, I'm not sure what to make of it. Perhaps this was a huge miscalculation, not just by the Jim Delany and the presidents but also by the industry professionals who are working with the Big Ten on this project. On the other hand, cherry-picking a random Wisconsin-Indiana football (I presume) game might make things look a bit rosier. Sure, IU football doesn't have a great following and sometimes ends up on TV opposite Notre Dame, Purdue, the SEC game of the week, or all of the above. Still, I have a hard time believing that a .6 rating is the typical output. What market? What game? Was that the rating for that game in Wisconsin? It's hard to square what Connors says about ratings with this, as discussed a few weeks ago:
Klatt showed that in recent years, more than half the TV sets in the Des Moines area are tuned to Iowa football when it is on TV, and about a quarter watch Iowa men's basketball when they play.
My point, I guess, is that this still may be a game of chicken. If the cable companies blink and acknowledge that it's a price negotiation, then the Big Ten has the cable companies right where it wants them. The smaller companies that have signed up aren't stupid, right? They must have determined that it was potentially damaging for their business if they didn't have the BTN. Larger companies with a national base of customers can more easily sustain an exodus of customers. So yeah, I guess I have talked myself into sticking with my old position.
If I have one tiny criticism, it would be that Peegs didn't ask about all of the channels--religious stations, ten different shopping networks, half a dozen Discovery channels, foreign language channels--that everyone has (and pays for) but no one wants. Still, a fine effort by Peegs at educating us on where the most vocal of the cable operators stands.