This Saturday represents one of the biggest days in the history of Big Ten Network. Not only will the network have a Top 25 showcase game between Northwestern and Michigan, but they’ll also be featuring two of the top five teams in the country – #4 Michigan State vs Rutgers and #1 Ohio State vs Maryland.
Ohio State’s national championship last season flipped the script on the prevailing narrative surrounding the Big Ten. Now with the Spartans and Buckeyes firmly in the nation’s elite and some other programs bouncing back, the conference is trending upward. To talk about that, the conference’s media rights, and the competitive college football landscape, we had the opportunity to ask a few questions to BTN President Mark Silverman for this Q&A.
AA: The Big Ten was something of a target for skeptics during the SEC’s reign of dominance. Has Ohio State’s national championship had a tangible effect on not just how the conference has been perceived, but in terms of viewership impact for BTN?
Mark Silverman: BTN has seen solid viewership increases this year that we believe are attributable to the rise of Big Ten teams in the rankings. A highly ranked Ohio State and Michigan State, a resurgent Michigan and great starts by Iowa and Northwestern have all helped grow our ratings.
AA: With Ohio State, Michigan State, and the Top 25 matchup between Northwestern and Michigan on the network all this weekend, how will you devote resources to each of those games? And with this being something of a marquis day for the network, what kind of imprint do you want to make on college football fans around the country who aren’t necessarily Big Ten fans that might be tuning in?
Mark Silverman: We believe BTN will be home of the most nationally relevant games all day on Saturday and all three will feature additional production elements. BTN will go to the Ohio State game early enough to watch the dotting of the “I” in Script Ohio, and also show The Big House early enough so fans can watch the band play “Hail to the Victors.”
These extra elements help showcase why BTN is different than other networks and how we aim to bring more of the collegiate feel to our broadcasts. Our games and schools are national schools that attract students and send alumni all over the country, and we expect to draw a considerable national audiences for our games.
AA: With the expansion of the conference and televising these games, how much of a premium does BTN put on expanding its live game offerings and getting more of these high profile games on the network?
Mark Silverman: The network is primarily a live-event focused network, and we are always seeking to air the best games we can. However, we have built the BTN brand to represent not only the games, but Emmy Award-winning original programs like the Journey, top-notch studio shows, and great on-air talent.
AA: Has there been any thought to alternate channels or more ways fans around the country can watch games that may be on at the same time?
Mark Silverman: BTN has alternate channels for viewers to watch every single BTN football game during the day. DIRECTV, Dish, AT&T U-verse, and Verizon FiOS all offer alternate channels across the country. The vast majority of cable operators offer alternate channels within the Big Ten area, and many cable operators also offer alternate channels outside the Big Ten area. BTN offers all distributors alternate games, and it is up to them whether to air them.
AA: Big Ten media rights are of course a big topic of discussion in the sports media world. What is the conference and BTN looking for from a national partner in the conference’s next media contract – whether it be ESPN, Fox, or maybe even someone else?
Mark Silverman: The Big Ten Conference will seek to license their rights at some point next year. BTN looks forward to working with any partner or partners the Conference selects.
AA: Do you see yourselves in competition with SEC Network and Pac 12 Networks? What is the relationship between all the conference networks that have arisen in the last several years?
Mark Silverman: We see all sports networks that air college sports as our competitors: ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, NBC Sports Net, CBS Sports Net, etc. We aspire to be the best collegiate sports network and believe we have the best programming year-round of any other college focused network. Our combination of live events, original and studio production, and national distribution provide us the platform to reach this goal.
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