With the launch of the new college football season underway and all eyes looking to dethrone Ohio State atop the championship mantle, Big Ten Network now finds itself hitting its ninth season on the air bolstered by its own hot run. After launching nearly a decade ago to resistance from MSOs, the network now finds itself in more than 60 million homes, and is scoring viewership records that include the launch of Scarlet and Gray Days: Inside Ohio State’s Training Camp, which marks the highest-rated August original program in the channel’s history. Meanwhile, streaming platform BTN2Go continues to grow its own reach.
Cynopsis Sports spoke with channel President Mark Silverman about the network’s own journey, and what we can expect to see in the years ahead.
Silverman on the evolution of the channel: Our strategy is to keep building our brand. With the expansion of adding Rutgers and Maryland most recently and Nebraska before that, we really have a great opportunity to grow significantly into the eastern seaboard, New York/New Jersey area and Baltimore/DC area to help establish the Big Ten as the preeminent national conference across the country. We have the subscriber base, the alumni base and the programming to enable us to go out and do that. So our key focus moving ahead will be to grow the BTN brand in these additional areas. We know we are well distributed in the Midwest, but the Midwest is only 30% of our subs. So have now have this great opportunity to expand our sphere of influence across the country.
On new additions: We are way ahead of where we thought we’d be with the new schools both in terms of distribution but also in terms of ratings and acceptance from the viewers in those areas. We thought it was going to be a longer period of time and fortunately there is such a large alumni base of Big Ten fans already in those areas. It was a great opportunity to interact with the alums in those areas as well as with the new alums. We’ve been able to do a few things with them, we did a game day at Rutgers last year where we had tremendous success and now we are doing game day this year at Maryland for when they play Michigan and hope to have similar results.
On Ohio State’s football championship: The last year was really an important year for the conference and therefor for the network establishing itself in football. As we were covering the season, there was a lot of speculation about how well the conference was performing. A lot of what we try to do now is talking to college football fans, not just the fans of Big Ten schools. We put the conference in context and the challenges they were having and then we were able to cover Ohio State’s fantastic finish as then Michigan State and Wisconsin’s big bowl victories. Being there for all of those games and being able to report form those sites gave us an opportunity to cover football longer than we have in the past. It became a natural lift to the overall mood in the office and the way the Big Ten was talked about.
On launching Scarlett and Gray Days: This type of show has obviously been growing as a result of the Hard Knocks show and the success HBO has had for that, as well as The Journey, which has been very successful for us and is probably our biggest and most important show that we do outside of the games. So we were looking for opportunity that made sense and when Ohio State indicated that they were open to doing a show of this magnitude, we quickly evaluated it and thought we could do a show like this. Ohio State was not obligated to do anything like this. They obviously have a lot of media attention surrounding them so we tried to make sure that they and BTN were on the same page and we were able to work together that made them happy. Of course, the viewers bought in to having unprecedented access to a national champion and it was a great next step for BTN and we will evaluate this going forward. Every single episode grow over the previous one.
On coaches: We definitely have some extremely high-profile coaches in both football and basketball and when you can have those coaches be on our air, it is going to help grow your viewership. That is especially true when you have superstar-level interest from the media and the fans in them and it helps having those coaches in the conference and on our television.