Saturday, February 6, 2016

Did the future Big Ten TV strategy get revealed?

Twitter user Matthew Herek brought this to my attention yesterday afternoon and its fascinating.  Here's the tweet:
And here's the specific part that Matthew is referring to (my emphasis in bold):
Starting in 2017, all the television broadcasts of a Michigan game at home or any time we play a Big Ten team are sold by the Big Ten Network. Now, the Big Ten network doesn’t televise all of them. ESPN will televise, Fox will televise, but in 2017 this contract starts to deliver our content. For example, in 2017 we play Florida in Texas at Jerry Jones Stadium down there, (and) we wouldn’t be able to see that in the future under this agreement. We could still go down there probably if we worked something out. In ’17 you could have NBC a player in both of our camps but we don’t know because the contracts aren’t settled.”
To be clear, Hackett's discussion of the Big Ten and future TV rights was part of a discussion involving getting Notre Dame back on the schedule.  But that part in bold is extremely interesting, because it sounds like a new agreement has already been crafted.  A few things run through my head:

1) Jim Hackett is conflating Big Ten, the conference, with Big Ten Network LLC, the joint partnership between FOX (51%) and the conference (49%) that runs the Big Ten Network.  This is what I would like to believe he's doing.  But that's no fun and it wouldn't allow me to write point #2.

2) The Big Ten Network, through Big Ten Network LLC, is going to either bid on or assume all TV rights going forward, then act as a re-seller to ESPN, ABC, FOX, CBS, whomever wants a game.  Its a fascinating way to go about future rights, because you're essentially auctioning off games or a weekly selection order.  Do you want Ohio St. vs. Michigan?  You'll might need to pay a little extra compared to Rutgers vs. Purdue (no offense intended towards any school).

But this isn't new.  Not by a longshot, if you remember how the ACC's men's basketball rights were administered before ESPN took over all rights to the conference.  Raycom Sports used to be the sole rightsholder for ACC basketball and would then sell games to ESPN, CBS, FOX Sports Net nationally and regionally and kept some games for themselves to syndicate to local stations.  Raycom was also the one that enforced the regional blackout of ESPN, and previously NBC, for some basketball games, including the ACC tournament.  ESPN, in return, I believe got some priority in which games they could buy (notice that neither Duke-UNC game ever ended up on FSN and that FSN couldn't brand itself as FSN for most of its time broadcasting ACC basketball, while ESPN could use its name, mic flags, etc.).

What would be a bit interesting about this is FOX has the majority ownership in the LLC, so would there be a priority towards FOX, FS1 and BTN?

Matthew brought up a second part though, and this might be why they're going this route:
That would be a big (no pun intended) step, but again, if Hackett had diarrhea of the mouth, that would be a gamechanger because the LLC would be the distributor and middle man for all TV.  I'm not sure how copyrights would work for digital vs. TV.  I believe the conference already retains the copyright to their games, which is why you see them on BTN from multiple networks as replays, similar to the SEC retaining copyright for their games and showing replays of games from multiple networks not only on SEC Network, but CBS Sports Network, ESPNU, etc.

The NFL has went the route of retaining digital rights on mobile phones, while including digital rights on tablets and PCs with the TV networks.  Maybe this is where the Big Ten is going with a variation, by selling an over the top product with all of their games, but continuing to sell to TV networks and their associated platforms.  TV networks may not go for that though and probably would offer a diminishing rights fee, since the conference is essentially selling a competing product with the same content.  But if you're all in on the Big Ten, and can "make do" with whatever you get from the broadcast networks, this might be a worthwhile product.  On the other hand, maybe a partner like ESPN or FOX would be willing to do an over the top product provided they were brought in.  Remember that ESPN has provided over-the-top offerings in cricket and are supposed to have the ability to offer them for MLS and the NBA.

But let's see if Hackett was truly talking about the future.

1 comment:

Serge said...

While these theories are quite valid, the B1G's main goal with its new media contracts is to maximize revenue and, as of now, the path to max money still is linear TV (with reasonable digital rights included); see: NBA, SEC Network, even the new NFL Thursday Night package will sell online rights AFTER having gotten a big, fat check from traditional outlets...

Now, it's quite conceivable all rights will be auctioned via BTN LLC (to ensure the Conference network gets good, even more Tier II content), but I still see the prime games ending up on the usual suspect outlets (ESPN, FOX and some CBS for hoops)...

Which reminds me... what would a good timeframe guess be for this deal to be closed? April? May? June even?