Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Big Ten Networking

I want to apologize up front, because this post doesn't apply to the vast majority of you. That's not to say that I'm alone, however. In fact, 15,000 households in the Medina, OH area and over 400,000 households in Ohio and Pennsylvania suffer from the same problem. If you're one of the 18,000 Penn Staters living in the affected areas, I sincerely hope that you don't live in one of those households.

Symptoms of this affliction include reflexively seizing control of the remote as soon as I visit anyone else's house, flipping on Big Ten Network, and leaving it there for the duration of my visit, regardless of what's on. Because I can't do that at home. Yes, still. Nearly four years since BTN's launch, and nearly three years after BTN carriage worked its way out of the headlines following its agreement with high-profile holdout Comcast, "providers" like Armstrong, Blue Ridge, Adams and MetroCast - all of whom "serve" Pennsylvanians - still don't offer the channel or the 115 PSU events that have been on BTN during the 2010-2011 academic year.


It certainly hasn't been easy for me, an Armstrong subscriber. Switching cable providers is not an option, and neither are newer technologies like AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS. While DirecTV is available, I don't feel secure that my signal would hold up to the weather we've had the last couple weeks. So I've spent the last four football and basketball seasons planning trips to Happy Valley around the television schedule, knowing that it's my best chance to watch BTN games. I don't like watching games where I care about the outcome in bars, because a) I'm a yeller and b) I get annoyed trying to focus on a TV relatively far away - and rest assured, the Penn State game doesn't get the sound in Ohio. But I'll do that if necessary. And while I'll eventually have season tickets, I'm not there yet.

Armstrong has a page set up on their website giving their side of the story. Quite frankly, I find it an insult to my intelligence. Furthermore, it was written by Armstrong president Jeffrey A. Ross, a Penn Stater (making a shallow attempt to use that fact to enhance his credibility). The impasse revolves around Armstrong's refusal to put BTN on their basic tier, instead insisting that it be on their digital or some other premium tier. Here's how Armstrong justifies that position:
We have spent a lot of time and effort to insure that our Basic line up only includes programming that reaches a broad audience. We normally put special interest programming like the Big Ten Network on our digital line up, which allows customers the choice to pay the extra amount for additional content. Examples of other sports networks available in this manner would be NFL Network, NHL Network, Tennis Channel, Golf Channel, ESPNU and Versus, among others.
Armstrong certainly has an unusual definition of "programming that reaches a broad audience." You see, things like EWTN, TV Land, Nicktoons, ABC Family, Inspiration and the ridiculously obsolete TV Guide channel are on the basic tier. That's not to say that there's not worthwhile programming to be found in those places, but I know that I've never watched a second of those channels since subscribing to Armstrong, and I'll wager that many of you haven't either.

Oh, and you know what else is in their basic lineup in my area? SportsTime Ohio and Fox Sports Ohio. Yep, if you regularly show live games involving teams of local interest, you get the basic treatment. That's a key distinction between BTN and Versus that Armstrong won't make, so I will. And let there be no mistake about it, Ohio State is a "local team" in Cleveland-Akron-Canton, despite being located in Columbus. The Columbus Blue Jackets are not.

I won't include the entire text of what Ross wrote, but I find it riddled with deceptive arguments, and even scare tactics. Like this one.
Perhaps, most importantly, the stance by a sports entity that all subscribers must pay or they will restrict access sets a dangerous precedent going forward. This issue is part of the restructuring of college sports presently underway. All major sports entities are looking for ways to generate additional money. The potential consequence for consumers is very significant.
Wait, sports entities want to generate money? Wow, what a bombshell. Here's what they're not saying: that boogeyman of "everyone must pay or access will be restricted" also applies to ESPN, to give one basic-tier example. It's just than in the case of ESPN, there's an assumption that most support that model. I believe the same is true of BTN in Big Ten states, but rather than attempt to find out, Armstrong would rather appeal to some vague "people don't like paying more" argument, or treat a few customers calling in to complain about prices as a scientific sample.

I've said a lot in this post, but words are one thing and actions are another. So here's my action: if Big Ten Network is not on Armstrong by this fall, I will no longer be an Armstrong subscriber. Period. Because soon enough, Armstrong isn't just harming my ability to support my school, they're harming my ability to do this blog...remember watching the segment above on Big Ten Tailgate last October 8th? I don't, and there's going to be plenty more of that soon enough. And quite simply, I can't do this effectively without access to a sizable chunk of PSU hockey coverage.

More importantly than telling you all of this though, I'm going to let Armstrong know about my promise. Maybe your situation isn't identical to mine. Maybe you're on Blue Ridge, Adams, or MetroCast. Maybe you don't blog about a Big Ten school's sports team. Maybe you favor a different Big Ten institution. But whatever your position, whatever your reasons for supporting your university, contact your provider, take a stand, and stick to it. Enough is enough. They say we don't - or even shouldn't - care about watching, I say we inform them otherwise in a language they understand.

(877) 277-5711 // info@zoominternet.net

Blue Ridge Communications
(800) CABLE-77 // Email form // Request a Channel form

Adams Cable Service
(888) 222-0077 // Contact form // frontdesk@echoes.net

(800) 633-8578 // Contact form // Channel request form // support@metrocast.com

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting an article reminding people to ask these providers for the BTN. As a Penn State member of the BTN Fan Council for the past year I've had the ability to have 1 on 1 conversations with Mark Silverman, President of the BTN. One of the things that has come up is the fact that these providers do not have a carriage agreement in place. I find it hard to believe that the top 20 markets (domestically) can reach an agreement and these providers can't. Mark gave insight into the discussions with the providers by saying that the providers have not heard the outcry from the customer base. The BTN won't bend on the basic vs. digital tier (within the 9 state Big Ten footprint) because it would dilute their position the next time all of these other agreements come up for negotiation. Mark specifically referenced the NFL Network carriage disputes taking longer to resolve because local fans didn't lose access to games with the way that the NFL set up local market licensing. Access to the games is the only way to generate the outcry needed to force the hand of the providers and unfortunately the losers in this are the fans.

    Best of luck in getting it added.