Page 2 of 2 Previous

Continued: Big Ten network cuts time for academic programming, citing low ratings and poor production

  • Article by: RYAN J. FOLEY and DAVID MERCER , Associated Press
  • Last update: May 18, 2012 - 7:28 AM

The Big Ten cable network has been an unchallenged success promoting conference sports to a national audience and making money for its members. The academic programming its leaders had promised hasn't panned out.

When the Big Ten Network launched in 2007, officials said it would promote the scholarly work done at its 11 schools. The network, Commissioner Jim Delany said, would broadcast up to 60 hours of non-sports programming from each school every year, providing "the ability to highlight academic achievement throughout the universities."

Five years later, the network is running less academic coverage than ever as it generates tens of millions in revenue for the conference and boasts of 51 million subscribers. Citing low ratings and poor production quality, the network and university presidents agreed to slash academic programming and emphasize quality and ratings over quantity.

That means more time to air revenue-generating sports such as football, even in the offseason. Ratings are up. The network also said it has followed through on its promise of covering an equal amount of men's and women's live events, shows everything from lacrosse to softball, and has given nearly 300 students experience in sports television production.

League officials say the 660-hours goal turned out to be impractical. A show about one university alienated other viewers, and universities had varying levels of video capability.

"Most of them didn't have the resources to produce the shows. It was always set up to be at their cost, not the network's," Delany said. "We were willing to give the time, but the universities had to create the shows. When we came up with the number of hours, we didn't know what the schools were capable of producing."

"There's fewer hours now, but the ratings are better and the production value is much better — top-notch, in fact."

The change, though, is a disappointment to some of the people who produced non-sports documentaries.

"I think they should hold true to what their mission was when they set out, which was to give a voice to all these campuses and allow us to tell our own stories," said Alison Davis Wood, an Illinois producer who had a hand in producing programs on figures such as Nobel Prize-winning professor John Bardeen.

For three years, Kecia Lynn hosted a program produced by the University of Iowa on the network where she interviewed authors such as Michael Cunningham ("The Hours") and others associated with the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She said she was told last year the show was cancelled.

"I understand the Big Ten network and that there is a lot of revenue generated by having this. At the same time, when you look at Iowa specifically and the literary reputation here, it's a missed opportunity," she said. "My show reached out to people who didn't know about this aspect of the university."

Penn State, which had been among the most prolific at producing shows, has cut programming by 95 percent, a spokesman said.

Mark Silverman, president of the renamed BTN, said it was clear the initial plan wasn't working after just a year.

"We were getting 20 hours from one school and none from others," he said, adding that production quality on many programs wasn't good enough to draw and keep viewers. "It doesn't matter how much you have on the air if no one's watching it."

Non-sports programming proved to be similarly problematic for the Mountain West Conference network. Spokesman Hayne Ellis said only a handful of conference schools ever provided programming and it is now down to a single half-hour show from San Diego State.

The Longhorn Network, the University of Texas partnership with ESPN, has been on for less than a year but plans to air 900 hours of academic programming by the end of those 12 months, ESPN spokeswoman Kerri Potts said. That programming includes commencement ceremonies — broadcast live and then replayed multiple times — and class lectures, neither of which were part of the BTN's plans.

The Pac-12 Network, set to launch in August, plans to air non-sports programming but isn't yet sure how much, spokesman Kirk Reynolds said.

The BTN wound up hiring a firm to produce a series, "Impact the World," which debuted in January and featured episodes about research at every school. It got higher ratings than prior academic programming, officials said, and a second season is expected later this year.

The network, a joint venture between the league and Fox Sports, paid the Big Ten more than $74 million in 2010, according to its latest tax return. The money made up part of the $20 million in total revenue the conference sent to its member schools under their revenue-sharing agreement.

Overall ratings were up 11 percent this year, said Big Ten network Vice President Elizabeth Conlisk. "Impact the World" drew several times as many viewers as individual campus programs did, she added, and other features are in the works.

As for Lynn's program, she said it was Iowa's decision to cancel the show.

Scott Ketelsen, director of Iowa's marketing and media production, said viewership "fell off the table" when such programming was aired, and everyone agreed change was necessary. In the end, he said the network was a business that was pouring cash into school programs. He has hired two campus videographers with money from BTN.

"You can make both sides of the argument as far as the type of programming that should be viewed on there and I understand that," he said. "But in this day of tight budgets and purse strings being pulled tight, something like BTN being successful and infusing money back into the universities is huge."

__

Mercer reported from Champaign, Ill. AP Sports Writer Larry Lage contributed to this report.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Mets 8 FINAL
Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Detroit 5 FINAL
Baltimore 4
Toronto 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2 FINAL
Cleveland 4
San Diego 3 FINAL
Seattle 4
Chicago WSox 6 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Kansas City 13 FINAL
Texas 2
Oakland 9 FINAL
San Francisco 2
Wisc-Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Milwaukee 8
Arizona 6 FINAL
Colorado 3
Univ of Minnesota 1 FINAL
Minnesota 3
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 105
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Orlando 100
Cleveland 120 FINAL
Toronto 112
Utah 84 FINAL
Boston 85
Charlotte 115 FINAL
Brooklyn 91
Denver 100 FINAL
Minnesota 85
Detroit 85 FINAL
New Orleans 88
LA Lakers 94 FINAL
Miami 100
Philadelphia 118 FINAL
Oklahoma City 123
Memphis 102 FINAL
Houston 100
Sacramento 85 FINAL
San Antonio 112
Milwaukee 93 FINAL
Golden State 102
Portland 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 93
Ottawa 3 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
NY Rangers 1 FINAL(OT)
Detroit 2
Pittsburgh 1 FINAL
Colorado 3
Montreal 1 FINAL
Anaheim 3
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 80
Ohio State 77 FINAL
Penn State 67
Maine 66 FINAL
Albany 83
Duquesne 81 FINAL
Fordham 66
George Washington 67 FINAL
George Mason 51
Tennessee 78 FINAL
LSU 63
Notre Dame 71 FINAL
Louisville 59
SE Missouri St 74 FINAL
Morehead State 79
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Mount St Marys 58
Hartford 63 FINAL
New Hampshire 67
Wagner 68 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Long Island 70 FINAL
St Francis-NY 79
La Salle 50 FINAL
Saint Josephs 55
Providence 79 FINAL
Seton Hall 66
UCF 45 FINAL
South Florida 74
Binghamton 57 FINAL
Stony Brook 62
UMBC 39 FINAL
Vermont 66
Sacred Heart 85 FINAL
Bryant 91
Richmond 56 FINAL
Massachusetts 53
Wake Forest 51 FINAL
Duke 94
Purdue 66 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Miami-Florida 67 FINAL
Pittsburgh 63
St Bonaventure 64 FINAL
Saint Louis 48
New Mexico St 69 FINAL
TX-Pan American 48
Houston 68 FINAL
Tulane 63
Howard 62 FINAL
NJIT 71
TCU 70 FINAL
Oklahoma State 82
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
Tulsa 47
USC 74 FINAL
UCLA 85
Miss State 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Utah State 53 FINAL
Wyoming 76
St Johns 67 FINAL
Marquette 51
SIU Edwardsville 66 FINAL
Eastern Ill 78
Air Force 66 FINAL
Fresno State 68
Nebraska 57 FINAL
Illinois 69
Colorado State 78 FINAL
Nevada 62
Boise State 68 FINAL
San Jose St 51
San Diego St 60 FINAL
UNLV 58
Oregon 65 FINAL
Oregon State 62
UC Santa Barbara 98 FINAL
Hawaii 90
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 69 FINAL
Boston College 53
Eastern Illinois 35 FINAL
UT Martin 68
Austin Peay 69 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 72
Virginia Tech 57 FINAL
NC State 56
Massachusetts 55 FINAL
St Bonaventure 49
Auburn 71 FINAL
Florida 49
Penn State 63 FINAL
Indiana 68
Clemson 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Davidson 63 FINAL
La Salle 74
Loyola-Maryland 46 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Boston U 48 FINAL
Colgate 58
Coll of Charleston 58 FINAL
James Madison 107
Delaware 76 FINAL
Elon 77
Drexel 58 FINAL
Northeastern 42
Hofstra 75 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 76
Towson 56 FINAL
William & Mary 68
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Akron 67
Ball State 85 FINAL
Central Michigan 69
Buffalo 55 FINAL
Bowling Green 47
Western Mich 65 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 74
Ohio U 69 FINAL
Kent State 56
Youngstown St 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 73
Illinois-Chicago 54 FINAL
Wright State 74
Alabama 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Detroit 60 FINAL
Milwaukee 56
Purdue 58 FINAL
Wisconsin 56
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close