Big Ten Network, Comcast agree

The Big Ten Network and Comcast have finalized an agreement for distribution in New Jersey and Maryland, as the Big Ten prepares to officially welcome new members Rutgers and Maryland on July 1.

Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany confirmed the Comcast deal to ESPN.com on Wednesday. BTN announced similar agreements with both Time Warner Cable and Cablevision in May, so the Comcast pact means the network will be available on the three major cable distributors servicing the New York and Washington, D.C., markets.

"It indicates that the Eastern initiative is moving forward in the direction we hoped it would," Delany said, "and that it means that Big Ten fans and college sports fans will be able to access 24/7 BTN on basic or digital basic carriage. Our goal was to achieve distribution in New York and D.C., Maryland and New Jersey.

"That's good news for the fans and good news for BTN and Rutgers and Maryland and all Big Ten fans in that region."

BTN's distribution will slightly vary from state to state, but it will be available to many more Comcast customers rather than appearing strictly on a separate sports tier. Although launch dates aren't finalized, Silverman said all three cable distribution agreements will go into effect before the football season starts in late August.

"That was an important priority for both distributors and BTN," he said.

Silverman didn't expect all three agreements to be finalized before July 4, and said BTN now can focus on providing original programming for its new audience of Rutgers and Maryland fans, as well as other Big Ten alumni living in New Jersey, Maryland, New York and Washington, D.C.

Silverman will try to get distribution deals with smaller cable carriers in the next few months.

BTN had a much harder time reaching distribution deals during its launch in 2007, as there were drawn-out, at-times-nasty negotiations with Comcast in Chicago and with providers in other league markets. But the network has been a major success, helping the Big Ten generate record revenues and reaching more than 52 million homes.

"The negotiations, nothing's ever easy," Silverman said. "You always try to present your case to why the network should be distributed as you'd like, but it's always the most difficult to get going initially.

"We're on a good path, a little ahead of where we thought. It now enables us to focus our attention on what will actually be airing on the network."