“Our long national nightmare is over”

August 28, 2008

In Watergate’s wake, President Gerald Ford once said in the somber moments following former President Richard Nixon’s resignation: “Our long national nightmare is over.”

I echoed those same words moments after the official press release popped up in my inbox. After more than a year of asking Mediacom, BTN and Iowa officials (plus a few fans, bar owners and satellite operators) the same questions about their impasse, the companies reached an agreement. Iowa’s BTN games finally will appear on Mediacom. Fans will watch them. Move on, as the liberals say.

Whew! No more questions about negotiations. The aggravation and wrath (or joy and ecstasy) of Iowa fans now will be saved for televisions in family rooms, not e-mails directed at sports reporters. In a few days, when everybody knows to which channel the Big Ten Network will appear on their cable lineup, I won’t hear a peep. Like our federal government, I’m the wrong person to dispense advice on how to spend people’s money. When it comes to TV choices in print, I’d like to stick to that statement.

Predictably, Iowa officials are thrilled. They caught the most junk from fans last year. I’m convinced the impasse hurt Todd Lickliter’s first year as basketball coach. Most of the games started at 8 p.m., so out-of-Corridor families didn’t come. Fans couldn’t watch them on TV because they had Mediacom and not the Big Ten Network. Fans didn’t build any familiarity with Lickliter or the players. They struggled on the court so there was apathy. People quit caring. Not exactly the best combination for a first-year coach.

“The plan for the Big Ten Network from its inception was to offer more access to more fans,” Lickliter said in a statement. “The agreement with Mediacom helps that vision become a reality for Hawkeye fans.”

Athletics Director Gary Barta shared in joy, saying, “This is a great day for the Hawkeyes.”

Iowa will make more money from this deal and the others the network signed this week. But right now, it’s like a new lease on life.

For Iowa and, in some ways, for me.


Mediacom’s Iowa fans finally win

August 23, 2008

For those of you who held out hope that Mediacom would pick up the Big Ten Network, your faith has been rewarded. Mediacom will pick up the Big Ten Network next week just in time for Iowa’s opener against Maine. A specific date for implementation is not determined.

There was no way either business (yes, it’s a business transaction) was going to let another season of Iowa football go down without the majority of Hawkeye fans watching the games. Neither Mediacom nor the Big Ten Network liked angering fans in the Hawkeye state but both had to stand firm with their demands. I don’t think many Iowa fans were in the mood for another year of point-counterpoint after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse wreaked havoc on the state in May and June.

When Comcast agreed to terms with the BTN in June, the wheels were in motion for Mediacom to pick it up. There are still a few matters to be addressed, such as will Mediacom’s non-Iowa franchises carry the network, will Mediacom’s digital customers receive more than just one game, etc. But the deal means Mediacom’s 400,000 Iowa cable customers won’t miss Iowa football and basketball games this year. It also fulfills the Big Ten’s purpose for bringing the network on board.

Leading up to Iowa’s opener against Maine, the BTN will broadcast a few preseason football specials. At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the network will re-air a 90-minute practice. At 2:30 p.m. Wednesday it shows Iowa’s 30-minute season preview. At noon Friday (Aug. 29) it broadcasts the one-hour debut of “Iowa Football with Kirk Ferentz.” KCRG will re-air it at 9 p.m. Friday.

Let’s home for Mediacom subscribers the substance was worth the wait.

BTN’s next stop Mediacom?

June 23, 2008

The Big Ten Network’s deal with Comcast last week could set the dominoes in motion for other cable companies this summer, including Mediacom, to pick up the fledgling sports network.

Comcast will pay the Big Ten Network reportedly between 60 and 70 cents per customer in Big Ten states and place the network on its expanded basic tier through spring 2009. Comcast then can shift the BTN to a widely distributed digital tier (which will happen anyway with the death of analog next year). This is good news for Mediacom subscribers.

Fans understandably were upset last year when they couldn’t watch football or basketball games. Many fans called school administrators or sports reporters, including myself, to vent because they couldn’t get through to Mediacom or Big Ten Network reps. The whole point of starting the Big Ten Network was to provide exposure to the league’s schools. Instead, the distribution issue set the league back 20 years in television time for big cable customers.

With its recent deal, the Big Ten Network recognized it needed the cable companies a little more than big cable needed the BTN. The network was flexible in its deal with Comcast. If the Big Ten Network provides similar flexibility to Mediacom, this saga could come to a close by late August.

BTN talks heat up?

May 19, 2008

After a few months of inactivity on Midwest sports pages, stories and conversations about the Big Ten Network have resurfaced by land (newspaper), air (television) and sea (Internet message boards). Multiple stories have the fledgling network close to deals with Comcast and Time Warner, the nation’s two largest cable companies. That likely would double their fan base and undoubtedly force smaller cable companies, like Mediacom, to follow suit.

But haven’t we seen this before? Negotiations seemed to ramp up before the 2007 football season, then before basketball season, before turning into a mirage. Nothing happened, and fans suffered through several blistering cold nights without watching their favorite basketball teams. Of course, watching Big Ten basketball this year would have given anyone a cold anyway.

I’m sure the rhetoric will heat up by mid-July. The Big Ten’s football media days are way early this year, July 24-25. That gives the BTN ample time to craft immense preseason football coverage during its dead period. It also provides the network a platform for whetting the public appetite for its Big Ten football coverage.

If cable companies don’t add the network by August, look for an all-out assault by the BTN. The network, the league and Fox (which owns 49 percent of the BTN) could justify one year of squabbling, but there’s too much money and prestige at stake to squander another year to bickering. The whole reason to start the network was to provide more coverage to student-athletes and their non-profit institutions. If the BTN can’t fulfill its mission and give as many people the ability to watch its programming, then what good is it? In the same breath, ask the cable companies if they are serving the public good by denying programming to the general public that would generate Super Bowl viewing numbers here in Iowa during a three-hour time block. I think we’ve been on this rodeo before.