Big Ten Net Chief: Expansion “Very Strong Possibility”
Network also chasing Obama interview tied to May 1 U. of Michigan address
By David Tanklefsky -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/21/2010 10:41:16 PM
Silverman also discussed how the prospective expansion of the NCAA's biggest money-making conference--with Notre Dame, Texas, Nebraska and Missouri all being bandied about as possible additions to the Big Ten--would effect his network. An edited transcript follows:
Q: Obviously you've heard about the possibility of the Big Ten expanding, maybe adding a school like Notre Dame to the conference. Do you expect some kind of expansion to happen?
MS: I think the official word from the conference is they're exploring expansion. I don't think anyone anticipates any new teams or games this year. The conference is very serious about examining expansion and I think there is a very strong possibility that they do elect to expand.
Q: Assuming it does happen at some point, what would be the implications of expansion for your network?
MS: Any additional universities that get added to the Big Ten provide the network [the opportunity] to grow its coverage, add more viewers, add more subs. I look at any potential expansion for the conference as having a positive impact on the network. We really have to see how expansion plays out. There's a very different answer depending on if it's one school or three or five. It's really premature to think about how it would impact our production or staffing needs or anything like that.
Q: Let's talk about another kind of expansion. The NCAA seems to be seriously considering expanding the men's basketball tournament to 96 teams. Do you expect that to happen?
MS: I'm not very familiar with the inner-workings at the NCAA so it's hard for me to comment on whether it's likely or not. It seems like that looks like a direction that the NCAA is heading.
Q: How would that impact the network? Is there a concern that a longer tournament could devalue some of the regular season content you produce?
MS: We cover our schools that are in our tournament. We had a live show every night [during this year's tourney]. If there are more Big Ten teams in there, the network will cover more teams in a more in-depth way. It remains to be seen if there's any impact on the regular season or not, I think we just need to see how it all plays out.
Q: How did the decision to cover President Obama's speech at the U of Michigan commencement come about?
MS: A couple of months ago or so we had heard that there was a possibility of this happening. As soon as we heard about that here we all realized that it could be a really important event for the network to be able to cover. We've spent a lot of time the last couple of years building up our Campus Showcase project to show that the Big Ten is about a lot more than just athletics. We've grown that considerably over the last few years and now have dedicated time blocks for the school to demonstrate these kinds of non-sports programming. We started getting in contact with U of Michigan and made a concerted effort to have this be a premiere event in our Campus Showcase lineup.
Q: What can you tell us about the various production elements that will comprise the broadcast of the commencement from a logistical standpoint?
MS: The interesting anecdote is it's kind of similar to covering a football game. It's at the "Big House," Michigan Stadium. We have one of our big producers who does our football games covering the event. It will be much more than one camera sitting there taping this. It will be multiple cameras showing different angles at the Big House. We're pursuing an interview with the President. [We will have an] interview with Michigan's President Mary Sue Coleman. It's similar to a Michigan football game in terms of excitement and the amount of attention that we think the event is going to generate.
Q: Is this an event that will be able to propel more of your Campus Showcase content?
MS: I look at this as really being an opportunity for the network to show the kind of exposure we can bring to universities beyond a sporting standpoint. We're going to work with all the universities to improve and increase our non-sports programming. This is a catalyst of what we intend to be more of a focus on finding these kinds of events and types of programming that will be of more interest to viewers.
Q: Strategically, is it a way to introduce the network to new viewers or to get core Big Ten fans who already tune in interested in different kinds of programming?
MS: I think it's a little of both. If you're a Big Ten sports fan, you typically have gone to a Big Ten school and anything that the conference has going on has a heightened importance. It attracts our true audience that are sports fans just in a different mold and for non-sports fans, it's a chance to reach a different type of audience than we normally would.
Q: From the original programming side, you're in production on Big Ten Icons. What can we expect from that series?
MS: [It's the] biggest programming initiative in our history. [Former ABC sportscaster] Keith Jackson is hosting a show counting down the top 50 icons in conference history beginning this fall and ending [in conjunction] with the basketball tournament in March. Numbers 50-21 will be launched online and have mini-promos on our linear network. Numbers 20-1 are linear episodes counting down each week. We're looking for those student-athletes who made an impact that's lasting far beyond their collegiate careers. Combination of their stats, legacies, what they've left behind in terms of student athletes and the overall impact they have had on their sport, school and conference. A combination of Big 10 officials, network officials and talent and media members from the region gave us feedback.
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