The NCAA’s Big Ten Conference is partnering with Fox Cable Networks to create its long-rumored conference-specific cable channel while also signing a new 10-year deal with ABC/ESPN that increases its national exposure for football and basketball.
The Big Ten Channel will launch in August 2007, which is also when the new ABC/ESPN deal takes effect.
The Big Ten Channel will be carried from its outset on News.Corp subsidiary DirecTV, where it will be part of the Total Choice Package which is currently received by more than 15 million households. Many events will be available in HD, and the channel also plans to distribute content via new-media platforms.
The Big Ten will be the majority owner of the new network, with Fox holding a minority interest as part of a 20-year agreement. Fox will handle the daily operations for the Chicago-based network. With the Big Ten an owner and provider of content, no alcohol or gambling-related advertising will be accepted.
Among the new channel’s offerings will be at least 35 football games, including at least two games from each university. In addition, plans call for 105 men’s basketball games, 55 women’s basketball games and events from the Big Ten’s library, including football bowl games.
Ancillary programming will include coaches shows, as each university can provide up to 60 hours per year of original programming to the network.
The new ABC/ESPN deal calls for carriage of up to 41 football games and approximately 60 men’s basketball games.
In addition, all regional afternoon football games aired regionally on ABC will be aired by ESPN or ESPN2 in outer markets, meaning those games will be available nationally.
The basketball component includes games each Tuesday and Thursday during the regular season, as well as up to eight Saturday games during that nine-week stretch.
ESPN also plans on placing Big Ten content on its new-media applications including ESPN360, ESPN.com, ESPN Video on Demand and its Mobile ESPN cellphone service.