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5 Takeaways From The Big Ten’s New Media Deals

Each partner received an equitable fair share of content that will make the conference a cornerstone of each respective network for years to come.

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It’s been well known for weeks that the Big Ten was about to make television history but the official confirmation came on Thursday morning. FOX, FS1, BTN, CBS, NBC, and Peacock will now be your exclusive homes for everything Big Ten for the foreseeable future. Each partner received an equitable fair share of content that will make the conference a cornerstone of each respective network for years to come. Here are the five most interesting things I take away from the new agreement.

Amazon gets spurned again – Richard Deitsch of The Athletic reports Amazon was willing to pay more than CBS and NBC for a package of games in the 3:30 p.m. time slot or the primetime slot. As we now know, they were rejected. They didn’t even win the streaming package that was being offered, as I had previously predicted (Being on Peacock guarantees promotion across NBC platforms including “Today” or during NFL games). This shows that leagues, now more than ever, care the most about reach.

Michael Mulvihill of Fox Sports says if CBS, NBC, and Fox “promotes their next B1G game twice in their Sunday NFL games, that’s over 150 million promo impressions for the B1G every NFL Sunday.” Amazon has 172 million Prime subscribers in the U.S. according to a Consumer Intelligence Research Partners report from last January.  But it is much easier for the average viewer to find CBS, NBC, and Fox than it is to find Prime on their television sets. It’s a plain and simple fact that may not change for a long time.

We might have to wait for the next rights renewal process for Amazon’s reach, accessibility, and recognition to be anywhere near the same as the broadcast networks. Ad Age reports the internet behemoth is already lowering ratings expectations for the upcoming season of Thursday Night Football because of those same concerns. 

Seven years from now, things might be different, and having essential NFL games on Thursday nights may help viewer habits adjust no matter what age group they’re in. But for now, broadcast is still king. Local stations and broadcast networks have a decades-long affiliation with Americans that might be impossible to ever overcome and are the easiest channels in this country to access.

Peacock becomes even more of a must-have app for sports fans – As part of this comprehensive deal, Peacock will have the rights to eight exclusive Big Ten football games and as many as 47 exclusive men’s basketball games, and 30 women’s basketball games. As much as broadcast may be king, streaming is here to stay. Big Ten fans will now join hockey and soccer fans in having to watch a huge chunk of their school’s season on a streaming service. For fans, it will be an adjustment.

Depending on your internet signal, it might be difficult to screencast or connect an HDMI cable or access a smart TV app to watch your school’s games but eventually, it is a behavior we will all need to adjust to if we haven’t already. For NBC, it gives their app even more leverage to distinguish itself and prevent churn as much as possible. Hoops season will probably be the moment fans truly notice the change.

My viewing habit in the past to watch Big Ten basketball games was flipping the channel to ESPN or ESPN2 by happenstance. Unless my Terps are playing or there’s a game that’s being discussed heavily throughout the day on Twitter that’s a must-watch, the chances of me figuring out how to access it on Peacock are slim to none.

The Big Ten and Peacock’s hope is that during the duration of this deal, my habit changes to not only flip channels on my basic cable package but also flip through my streaming services and see there’s a Big Ten matchup happening and that I need to tune in. I wonder if Xfinity and other cable providers will consider a virtual channel placeholder that makes it easier to connect to a streaming service’s sports events in the future.

For example, if ESPN is channel 6 on my cable listings, ESPN2 is channel 7, my local RSN is channel 8, FS1 is channel 9, could a cable provider make channel 10 something like “Peacock Sports” with a listing of a Big Ten game that’s on that connects me right into the app and right into the stream without me having to search for the app, then look for the sports section, then scroll to see what’s live. Accessibility will make streaming sports so much easier. Watching television is a lazy man’s sport. The harder a viewer has to work, the less likely they’ll watch or discover your content. Peacock will also serve as a major home for Olympic sports.

It will be interesting to see if being on the same app as hit shows like Belair and Love Island helps with increasing the visibility of these sports. The Athletic also reports that there will be times Peacock will be airing a primetime Big Ten game while NBC airing a primetime Notre Dame game. Will they complement each other or take away viewers from each other? These are questions we will know the answer to soon enough but I salute the Big Ten and NBC for taking a measured but aggressive leap into the streaming world.

CBS bolsters television offerings despite streaming and SEC losses – When it was first revealed that CBS was signing with the Big Ten for more money than they would’ve used to keep the SEC’s top football game of the week, everyone cried wolf about how CBS took a major L. But when you look at this deal, it seems like more of a win for CBS’ overall sports portfolio.

The Tiffany Network will have access to two Big Ten Championship games in 2024 and 2028. NBC may have more streaming exclusives for their app but CBS will have an extra college football postseason game that NBC doesn’t have (NBC has one Big Ten Champ Game in 2026). They’ll carry 15 MBB games along with the Big Ten Tournament semis and final. They’ve also just added the Big Ten WBB Tournament Final. Women’s basketball ratings are continuing to soar whether it is the college game or the professional game.

A new set of advertisers are seeking to showcase their products during women’s sporting events as awareness and conversation have shifted to giving the women’s game just as much attention as the men. CBS has been a witness to the growth through its NWSL and WNBA broadcasts. CBS also gains a lucrative Black Friday afternoon football game that they’ll be able to sell for even more lucrative prices due to the time of year when millions more people than usual are glued to their television sets.

With their deal with the SEC, they only got SEC football. This is much more expansive for them. It also helps that the markets where Big Ten teams are located are much more aligned with their owned and operated stations than the SEC was which will help with local ad sales in those markets. In my hometown of Baltimore, CBS owns WJZ-TV. The University of Maryland’s biggest market with the most fans besides Washington, D.C. is Baltimore.

Is there still a chance for ESPN and the Big Ten to be business partners again? – As crazy as it sounds, there is a possibility that the Big Ten will expand AGAIN to include Pac-12 schools like California, Stanford, Oregon, and Washington, CBS Sports reports. With Fox, CBS and NBC already having their schedules set, ESPN could be the perfect rights holder to step in and pick up games.

As I noted last week, I don’t think the Big Ten will lose any relevance from a college football perspective by no longer airing on ESPN. Big Ten schools will still be eligible candidates for ESPN’s CFP property and the Big Ten’s football fanbase is too large to neglect on ESPN’s talk show circuit without monetary consequences on ESPN’s end. The basketball season might prove to have much different circumstances. Major basketball games will still air on fully distributed networks like FS1 and BTN.

But does the human psyche of not being on ESPN affect the way a basketball team is perceived during the selection process of the NCAA Tournament? If there is an actual connection, could we see the Big Ten sublicense some of BTN’s inventory to ESPN? Events like the Big Ten/ACC Challenge also hang in the balance. Could we see those types of tournaments sold separately to ESPN or another media outlet like Turner, Amazon, or Apple?

The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach reports the Big Ten could explore selling the rights to “specific one-off events.” Darren Rovell of The Action Network points out that live micropayment moments could be the future of watching live sports. “You’re going to be able to buy the last quarter for $2 or the last two minutes for 99 cents,” Rovell wrote. This type of technology already exists via the Buzzer app which has signed deals with the NBA and WNBA to send push notifications during key moments of games and encourage viewers to watch what happens next for 99 cents or $2.

ESPN has one of the most used sports apps in America. Could a deal ever come into place that gives ESPN the ability to sell these live micropayment moments of Big Ten games for similar prices, connect their user to the Fox Sports app or Paramount+ or Peacock depending on where the game is taking place, and split the profit between the rights holders, the conference and themselves? It’s a crazy concept of cooperation that may not be possible but we’ve seen crazier concepts happen in sports media before.

Commitment to academics – One of the coolest parts of this deal is NBC’s commitment to promoting the academic missions of Big Ten schools. Michael Smith of Sports Business Journal reports NBC will dedicate $100,000 of its advertising budget to this initiative.

NBC has tried its best to be mission-driven lately even with their HBCU football slate which will grant select students from HBCUs an opportunity to cover a game for NBC’s digital platforms and give other students the ability to network and improve their career prospects with other divisions of NBCUniversal.

College sports broadcasts are not only good recruiting tools for athletes. High school students deciding on where to go to school post-HS that will never play a sport are also watching these games. They can be influenced to attend these institutions which NBC has rights to because of the experiences NBC is providing at these universities or because of the awareness NBC is giving to what the university stands for. It helps drive a mission of purpose and business-wise, NBC is potentially building a young, new fanbase for the future.

A student who eventually builds allegiance to a certain university through NBC’s initiatives might be more inclined to consume content regarding that institution on NBC platforms in the future. It’s probably far-fetched, wishful thinking, and a bold hypothesis with no analysis but who knows? Haha.

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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