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

  • Article by: RYAN J. FOLEY and DAVID MERCER , Associated Press
  • Updated: 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 cancelthe 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 - LP: J. Familia 6 FINAL
Miami - WP: A. Ramos 9
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 7 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: J. Teheran 0
Boston - LP: B. Badenhop 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: G. Balfour 4
Minnesota - WP: P. Hughes 6 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 4
Pittsburgh - LP: G. Cole 4 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: S. Maness 5
Milwaukee - LP: J. Nelson 2 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Turner 4
Detroit - WP: D. Price 12 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Kluber 1
Seattle - LP: C. Young 1 FINAL
Oakland - WP: J. Hammel 6
San Francisco - WP: J. Affeldt 4 FINAL
Colorado - LP: C. Friedrich 2
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Ross 3
San Francisco 8 Top 9th Inning
Colorado 9
Washington 3 Top 4th Inning
Los Angeles 2
Texas 0 Top 5th Inning
Kansas City 4
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
Buffalo 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Minnesota 9/7/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Cleveland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Oakland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Cincinnati 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Washington 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Tennessee 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
New England 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Tampa Bay
San Francisco 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Indianapolis 9/7/14 7:30 PM
Denver
Utah State 7 FINAL
Tennessee 38
SMU 0 FINAL
(10) Baylor 45
Miami-Florida 7 2nd Qtr 7:18
Louisville 7
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(7) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(2) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(15) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 30 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Toronto 12 FINAL
Hamilton 13
Edmonton 13 FINAL
Calgary 28
Indiana 84 FINAL
Chicago 86
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Gophers in their season opener

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close