Big Ten charges into digital TV with BTN2GO


Big Ten charges into digital TV with BTN2GO
Oct 6, 2014

The University of Maryland’s transition to the Big Ten has brought plenty of new things to College Park: a new athletic conference, but also a league-wide academic consortium and, as it turns out, a rapidly digitizing conference-themed television network.

The university’s new conference launched the Big Ten Network in 2007 to provide a TV home for each of the conference’s at-the-time 11 member institutions. As time has gone by, the network has moved further and further into digital media, expanding itself into what one top executive calls a “TV-everywhere” era.

At the forefront of the BTN’s digital efforts is its online, mobile and tablet platform, BTN2Go, which launched prior to the 2011-2012 academic year.

With a cable login, the site offers live games and TV programming, enabling viewers to watch what they could otherwise see by clicking their TV remote to the channel. Also on BTN2Go’s menu is a premium subscription to watch extra events involving favorite schools, along with a free series of short-form clippings, like highlights packages and press conferences.

“Especially in 2014, if you’re going to be a content provider, you need to be able to provide that content in a seamless manner to your subscribers no matter where they are, whether they’re in the home or out of the home, on whatever device they have with them, whether it’s a smartphone or a tablet or a computer screen,” said Michael Calderon, the BTN’s vice president for digital media and programming.

On the TV channel, the BTN airs roughly 470 live events per year. BTN2Go streams around 1,000 additional contests annually, Calderon said.

“We rely on the athletic departments to help us produce these events logistically,” Calderon said. Even so, he said scheduling programming around those events is a “massive undertaking.”

And as the conference adds Maryland and Rutgers this year, the BTN’s expansion is as much geographic as it is digital.

And as the conference adds Maryland and Rutgers this year, the BTN’s expansion is as much geographic as it is digital. The network has worked closely with students here to coordinate production of Maryland telecasts for BTN platforms in non-revenue sports like men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball and field hockey.

“They gave us all this equipment. They gave us everything we need to be professional journalists,” said Marissa Morris, a junior journalism major at the university who has contributed to the broadcasts in a variety of roles. “Everything is state-of-the art.”

Andrew Emmer, a university alumnus and an associate producer for SiriusXM Radio’s college sports station, said he’s appreciated the focus of the network’s offerings.

“I love that I can now, when I’m flipping through my TV, see BTN Live and just turn it on. I don’t have to sit through, I don’t know, Washington-Stanford highlights or Florida State-Wake Forest highlights all the time,” Emmer said.

“It really feels like an ESPN or a Fox Sports that’s solely dedicated to 14 teams,” he said.

The BTN’s primary business – along with most of its revenue streams – is based on the TV channel itself. But Calderon said TV-everywhere products like BTN2Go have become more important in recent years to business relationships.

“It’s part of the larger business model of the network,” Calderon said. “It certainly is an important component in 2014 of a programmer slash distributor relationship.”

Every customer who has access to the TV channel also has access to BTN2Go, Calderon said. BTN2Go generates revenue through subscription sales and a corporate sponsorship with Auto-Owners Insurance.

BTN2Go has encountered some technological problems. One of the most challenging elements of the service, Calderon said, is integrating the web product with around 100 cable TV distributors big and small and across the country, to make sure access is doled out to the appropriate customers. The associated sign-in page sometimes freezes or behaves oddly.

“There are always technological challenges to execute that flawless product. I wish I could say BTN2Go was that flawless product,” Calderon said. “I don’t know that there is such a thing.”

Some cable integration issues notwithstanding, the online product typically works well. Calderon said the network uses social media to gather information about any problems customers have and has a technology team that works on them.

Eight years ago, there was no Big Ten Network. Four years ago, the web presence for the network didn’t include anything like BTN2Go. Five years from now, Calderon said he wasn’t sure where the network would be digitally.

“Five years in digital is like 35 years in dog years,” Calderon said with a laugh. “What I can promise is that we’re going to continue to stay on top of the digital trends, not only with technology but with our industry, and we’ll be well positioned to be servicing Big Ten fans on digital platforms, no matter what shape that takes from a technology or business perspective.”





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