A few weeks ago, I posted on the announcement of The Big Ten Ticket. In that post, I did touch on my general disappointment with the Big Ten Network's general streaming package:
I have had it confirmed from the Network that the Big Ten Ticket will only cover those football and basketball games and nothing else. This means the women's basketball games streamed last year will most likely continue for free. The lack of other Olympic sports coverage is a big disappointment.
Well, the Big Ten Network saw that complaint and understood my disappointment. Come to find out, the BTN has been working to address that problem for the last few months. Last week, they announced the new and improved domestic streaming package.
The Big Ten Network will double its commitment to several Olympic sports this season by streaming at least 200 live events on BigTenNetwork.com. The network has made a significant financial investment to provide fans with a high-quality streaming experience comparable to watching a game in high definition.
The network invited me to discuss their new streaming venture with Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman. Since I'm pretty excited about this venture and the coverage it opens up, I was glad to accept their offer. So here's my overview of the new streaming video service. [Remainder! After the jump!]
After realizing that I was talking to the man who had been the VP of ABC's business development, general manager of ESPN Zone, and VP of Disney Studios, I knew I had to go into this discussion with a little bit of preliminary research. So before I get into some of the questions I had for Silverman, here's a preliminary overview of the new Olympic streaming project at video.bigtennetwork.com:
- The BTN will be doubling their number of Olympic sports shown to over 200 games.
- The Olympic sports will not cover football or conference men's basketball games (they may carry some exhibitions and nonconference games)
- The initial project will sell access to games for $2.99/game (more on this later), payable by credit card.
- The project will be available in HD, and the streaming software automatically adjusts to your bandwidth to find the best feed for you.
- Games you purchase will be available until the season ends.
- The games will be streamed via a flash player.
- Women's basketball and volleyball are the two sports getting the most coverage this fall. That said, their drop down menu includes 21 different sports, not including subdivisions of men's vs. women's.
This is a great improvement from last year's coverage, which featured only women's basketball conference games only. A couple of the sports that specifically caught my eye were ice hockey and lacrosse. When I asked the BTN about the two, I got this
We hope to be able to stream many non-televised ice hockey games, but we’re still trying to figure out all of the rights issues.
I don’t anticipate us streaming club level sports this year, but as we grow the initiative, we’ll look to stream events that we think will draw the most viewers.
Another question I asked the BTN was about the sports that would be covered in the immediate future. Looking through the schedule, it appeared to be only arena sports such as volleyball and basketball. They confirmed that these type of sports would be the main focus this season mainly because of the lack of technology at many other complexes.
The BTN has much of their streaming technology in place at the basketball arenas after last year's project. The volleyball courts are getting the next round of installations. Other sporting venues hope to be hooked up before next school year.
Michigan Games Scheduled
Michigan has 19 games currently scheduled to be shown on the BTN.com streams. The October 24th volleyball game at Minnesota is the debut for Michigan. Their next game on BTN.com will be the men's basketball game on Nov. 6 against Wayne State. The men have 3 other games scheduled for BTN.com including Houston Baptist, Arkansas-Pinebluff, and Coppin State.
The women's basketball has 14 games one the schedule so far, including 2 nonconference games.
One of the other questions I made sure to ask was who holds the broadcast rights for adding future games. With Michigan now included in the CBS College Sports multimedia sphere, there is the opportunity to stream more games. Northwestern, also a CBSCS member, streamed many of it's Olympic sports last year. Michigan could conceivably do this as well, although at much lower quality than the BTN.
The Network told me that this school coverage would remain untouched except for the games selected by the BTN. They hope to bring more and more of these games to the BTN each year, but that the schools can stream their games if the BTN does not reserve them.
With the progress of the different schools and venues getting their streaming technology installed and/or updated, the BTN decided it wouldn't be fair to offer school packages this year. The uneven distribution would be too difficult to set prices to, so they instead chose to go by a game-by-game fee structure. The current price per game is $2.99, which is good relative to established precedent. A few other conferences have streaming capabilities, but most of the work here has been on an individual-school basis. The two examples of conference streaming packages that I've found are the Atlantic Sun (ASun.tv) and the Horizon League (HLN). Most school packages are under the CBS College Sports XXL (CBSCS XXL) package. As noted in the earlier post, the prices of the ASun.tv and CBSCS XXL packages are as such:
CBSSports XXL … is $15 a month and $120 per year. During the baseball season, the Atlantic Sun conference (ASun.tv) carried individual games for $6, monthly subscriptions for $10, and yearly subscriptions for $70.
As you can see, the BTN streaming deal is about half the cost of the ASun.tv option, and much more flexible than the current CBSCS XXL package. As for the Horizon League, they are the biggest deal out of the group. They actually stream their shows for free. They don't cover that many sports, but when they do, it's free. I think it's fair to say the Big Ten Network probably couldn't afford to do this, especially with the high quality they expect to put out.
At least in year one, the BTN isn't focusing on including advertising or commercials in their streams yet. I'd expect them to work advertisements into the streams eventually. It makes sense from a business model to fill the empty time at the half or between periods to include at least 30 second ads, if anything just to help the announcers out.
The BTN is also using this streaming project to connect with student groups. The streaming video will be announced by student announcers, presumably WCBN for Michigan games. The network will be working with campus groups to train and develop their commentators for a slightly better quality both in the audio and video capabilities. The BTN hopes show their commitment to not just the fans watching the games, but also the students involved in producing the events, giving them experience and training for potential future employment.
This is a great PR move for the Big Ten. The idea of moving student broadcasters into BTN booths has been floated around for a couple years. I can remember Paul and Tim in their WolvTV years asking them for the same sort of chance. It's taken a few years, but it's finally come into fruition.
For those wanting to know about streams for men's basketball or football, I asked why they can't be streamed domestically (in the US). He explained to me that in their contracts with their cable and satellite providers make it impossible for them to stream games that are being broadcasted. To secure the availability of BTN to be included in the basic package in the Big Ten footprint, they had to guarantee no concurrent streaming in the US.
Because of these restrictions, they created the BigTenTicket for the international fans for football and men's basketball. Those are the majority of televised games, and therefore are unavailable to the international audience. Those games will stay archived on the BigTenTicket, but Silverman tells me they are working to make the basketball games available to purchase in archived form. They are still a few weeks away from knowing if it will be possible for this season. He made it sound as if football wasn't going to have that available this year either.
As for the Olympic sports broadcast live, those will be available only via television, and not be streamed at all.
I also asked about the potential about streaming for "free" like ESPN360. For those of you not familiar with ESPN360, ESPN/ABC streams almost every game on College Game Plan for no charge. In reality, the user pays for it in their internet/cable bill. Silverman doesn't see that being a possibility. The contracts they have with cable providers are quite long term, and it would be tough to get something like that included.
The BTN Outlook
The BTN is trying to tailor their content to viewer's desires. They are working on getting more mobile applications and fan friendly projects. They really want your input. They listen. So if you have a comment, question, concern, or suggestion, let them know here.