Big Ten Network, Armstrong are still at odds
By John Harris
Published: Friday, September 2, 2011
The impasse between the Big Ten Network and Armstrong Cable continues.
Saturday's college football opener between Penn State and Indiana State at Beaver Stadium will be featured on the Big Ten Network, which is available to more than 80 million homes nationwide. However, the game won't be available to approximately 18,000 Armstrong subscribers in Greater Pittsburgh and surrounding areas, continuing a trend that has existed throughout the history of the network.
Moreover, unlike previous negotiations, when both sides agreed that progress had been made, Big Ten Network officials suggest that a deal to televise Penn State games on Armstrong won't be reached in time for this season and that an agreement may never be reached.
"Armstrong's not going to carry the network," said Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman. "I don't anticipate it ever changing. ... I think the evidence is pretty clear. For them to mislead people that we're still negotiating, that they're still thinking about it after four years, is extreme.
"They should tell people we're not carrying the network. After four years of this, they're not going to do it. It's not going to happen."
Silverman said the Big Ten Network has agreements with more than 300 affiliates, including Comcast and Time Warner. The network televises live and tape-delayed broadcasts in 95 percent of the Big Ten region.
David Wittmann, Armstrong's vice president of cable marketing in Butler, stressing that a "strong effort was made over the past four months to try and resolve the situation," conceded that negotiations "are not moving forward at the present time. Things can change, but at this moment, it doesn't look promising."
Wittmann added, "We're very disappointed we haven't been able to find a solution to the problem for the segment of our customer base that is interested in Penn State athletics."
Penn State athletic director Tim Curley said frustration stems from Armstrong being the largest cable provider under the Big Ten umbrella — with more than 200,000 subscribers — that doesn't carry the network. Curley encouraged Penn State supporters to voice that frustration by contacting Armstrong, which has continued to raise its rates since it first rejected offers from the network in 2008.
"Either put enough pressure on Armstrong or switch to some other options that are available," Curley said.
Cable outlets raising rates is a common occurrence. Other outlets, such as Comcast, which carries the Big Ten Network, continue to raise rates for subscribers.
"I certainly think that whether you're Armstrong or any other cable provider, you want to respond to what your subscribers' interest is," Curley said. "I think if Penn Staters do reach out and let Armstrong know, I think Armstrong will respond."
The impasse is primarily a result of the Big Ten's refusal to be considered a premium channel such as HBO or Showtime.
Neither side appears willing to budge on the issue.
"The biggest challenge that any video provider has is controlling the cost of service that goes to our customers," said Wittmann, who has said sports programming accounts for approximately 40 percent of Armstrong's cost on basic cable.
According to Wittmann, part of Armstrong's negotiation strategy involved trying not to make every customer pay for sports programming.
"That's what our customers talk to us about every day, do everything we can to control the cost of basic cable service," Wittmann said.
Silverman said the Big Ten Network doesn't agree with Armstrong's policy of not wanting to absorb the additional cost of the network.
"Armstrong raises rates every single year (between $2 and $3) and they haven't had the Big Ten Network," Silverman said. "(Subscribers) don't have to pay any more money. No one else in the Big Ten area throughout the midwest has to pay additional money. What (Armstrong) is talking about is not paying for the Big Ten Network. They want the customer to pay for it by putting it on their sports tier, and that's what every other (cable) provider throughout the midwest region has said we're not doing and provided it on the extended-basic level of service."
Out of service
Pennsylvania cable providers who don't carry the Big Ten Network:
Pennsylvania cable/telco/satellite providers who carry the Big Ten Network:
Beaver Valley Cable
Borough of Kutztown
Brockway Cable TV
CATV Service, Inc.
Citizens Telecommunications Technologies
Mapleton TV Antenna Corp.
Millheim TV Transmission
North Penn/ Community Cable Corp.
RCN Telecom Services
Service Electric Cable TV & Communications
Service Electric Broadband Cable
Service Electric Cablevision
Somerfield Cable TV
Time Warner Cable
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