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In A Surprise Move, The Big Ten Becomes First Power 5 Conference To Reach A Streaming Agreement

The Big Ten Network announced a new streaming deal with Hulu and YouTube on Monday.

Getty Images - Joe Robbins

Big Ten Media Days is this week, and while it is not taking place in nearly as cool of a venue as Big 12 Media Days was, the conference did announce a spectacular new TV deal. The Big Ten conference has reached a 6-year deal with Fox, ESPN and CBS (in Basketball) for its television rights, along with an extended deal for the Big Ten Network that will carry it through 2032.

“To have these rights and to secure a future with the Big Ten Conference was a big priority for us,” ESPN executive vice president Burke Magnus said. “To be able to enter into this new agreement and help extend the exposure for this conference as far and wide as possible in conjunction with Larry and everyone at Fox Sports and also with our friends at CBS Sports really will contribute to an industry-leading distribution for the Big Ten Conference.”

The details, like what the new deal will pay out, have not been disclosed yet, but it’s safe to say Big 12 fans might need to buckle up for another round of “will the Big 12 be able to keep up”?

However, that’s not the most surprising news.. When Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman took the stage, he announced that the network has partnered with Hulu and YouTube in order to provide content to cord cutters.

“BTN is coming off arguably our most successful year ever,” Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman said on Monday. “We’ve produced more live events than ever before, we’re 1,600 events. We had more studio hours than ever before and we sold more ad revenue than ever before. We grew our ratings and grew our digital viewership. And the network is able to continue to grow. And as we look forward, our over-the-top distribution continues to grow as well.

“We’ll be on DIRECTV NOW. We’re on YouTube TV and we’ll be on Hulu starting this fall. So regardless of how the industry evolves, BTN will be committed to be available to all our viewers across the country.”

This is huge news because that makes the Big Ten the first to reach a streaming deal. That was something commonly thought the Big 12 would not only have the first crack at, but had some time before it would be an option for other Power 5 conferences.

As hopefully everyone knows by now, the Big 12 is the only conference whose members retain their third tier media rights. I say hopefully, because this is a big deal when conferences report distributions. Since third tier money goes straight to each school in the Big 12, the conference doesn’t “distribute” that money. Which, ends up skewing conference payout totals if you aren’t paying attention.

Big 12 members retain those right because the conference failed to work out a TV network deal with Fox and ESPN. Texas in unwilling to give up their cash cow, the Longhorn Network, and without Texas, a Big 12 Network just doesn’t make sense.

However, although the conference was left without much of a choice, we have started to wonder if the LHN inadvertently saved the Big 12. The ACC network is struggling to get off the ground, and the Pac-12 Network has been a financial disaster. Both conferences lag well behind the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC in revenue.

TV is going through a major shift. People only want to pay for what they want to watch and they are tired of high cable bills. ESPN has lost 12 million subscribers over the last six years. Which is a huge problem for the Network. And that’s not even getting into the difference between a subscriber and a viewer. There are subscribers to ESPN that may never watch or want the channel. It simply comes with their TV package. Millennials are saying no more. They don’t want to pay for something they don’t use and networks are having to adapt to that change.

Now, we don’t know exactly what content the Big Ten Network will offer via YouTube and Hulu, but we already see NFL games streamed on Twitter. Streaming is the future of TV.

The Big 12, either as a conference or its members, is thought to be in a very good position to take advantage of this new market. It was even thought that being first to market might provide the conference with some long-term stability, while other conferences struggle to keep their TV networks financially viable. Something it desperately needs. However, the Big Ten beat them to the punch, and at the same time, showed that other conferences could end up making similar deals.

Obviously a streaming deal is still an option for the Big 12 and the Big Ten Network’s deal shouldn’t affect the Big 12’s ability to make a deal themselves. However, the conference should try to get something done sooner rather than later, or risk being left behind once again.


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