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Hlas: Big Ten pushes into YouTube TV, Hulu

Jul 26, 2017

By Mike Hlas, The Gazette


CHICAGO — It’s easy to mock the Big Ten as puffy and pompous, but the league has long had more savvy than any other.

Case in point: The Big Ten Network is about to observe its 10th anniversary. Its programming and its accessibility have steadily matured and expanded.

“I think it’s important to note that that company has been (an) artistic, a financial success in separating us as many as 10 years ago,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said here Monday at his league’s football media day.

When Delany announced the concept of the BTN back in the day, many — including myself — snickered. People also once ridiculed the ideas of Food Network, Golf Channel and the Weather Channel, too. Those and many other networks, created by people who understood television and the public, endure.

For several years now, the BTN has been envied by all other college conferences. The Pac-12 and SEC have their own networks, but the BTN easily surpasses the others for quality.

It wasn’t news that the Big Ten would embark on a six-year contract with CBS for basketball and ESPN and Fox for football, basketball and some Olympic sports. That story broke over a year ago, with the package netting the Big Ten $2.64 billion over six years.

But Delany made that official Monday, and had executive vice presidents of ESPN and Fox Sports on the same stage with him when he did so. As shows of force go, that one would be the envy of Kim Jong Un.

The bigger news, however, perhaps didn’t involve the networks as much as the growing number of platforms that carry them.

BTN President Mark Silverman announced this network will be available this fall on Hulu and YouTube TV’s new livestreaming services, as well as PlayStation Vue, Sling and DIRECTV NOW. The BTN is adding one more reason for you to snip your cord to cable and go a la carte.

“People are consuming content differently,” Silverman said. “And I think everyone in our industry needs to be very aware of that and you need to be able to get your branded content there.

“I’ll give you an example of why this is important for us. This past year, ‘The Journey,’ before the show aired on BTN, we would send out clips of the show on social media to get notice of the show. So people would be watching this that are on their Facebook account, that are on their Twitter account, they’ll see a little video, 30, 60, 90 seconds about ‘The Journey.’

“ ‘Journey’ ratings are up 19 percent this year over the year before, yet we had more content out before the show even aired than ever before. So what had been a mind-set of let’s keep all the content close — we don’t want to share anything with anybody until the show airs — is no longer, at least for BTN, the way we think we can maximize viewership and grow our brand.”

Again, smart. Several late-night talk shows owe almost as much to their success to their YouTube channels as their networks.

“If you’re not leveraging the tens of millions of people that are on these different platforms during the day, I think we’re all missing a huge opportunity,” Silverman said, “and it does cause you to rethink a bit how you run your network and how you grow your brand.

“And if you’re only promoting yourself on your own air, you’re really limiting, with all the people out there, who is going to come in and watch your network, in our opinion.”

The BTN and, to a degree, the Big Ten itself, won’t hook itself into the hearts of young adults if it isn’t as mobile as a Saquon Barkley or Akrum Wadley.

“We have the flexibility in this deal to work with the Big Ten and the Big Ten Network to be able to experiment with new technologies and production and try to break through all the clutter of television,” Fox Sports executive vice president Larry Jones said.

The Big Ten has many of the biggest coliseums and population centers in college sports. But it knows it has to be able to go everywhere to continue to go anywhere.

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