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Big Ten Network prez talks conference TV surge

Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman isn't surprised by the surge in conference networks since the BTN launched in 2007.

If the ACC pulls off theirs -- ACC folks are pumped, ESPN folks have agreed to examine but aren't ready to call a deal imminent -- it will mean that four of the five power conferences would be providing 24-hour coverage for their fans.

The Big 12 would be the only one without, but their schools make a lot of money off third-tier rights and don't want to give that up.

Silverman, who said BTN is broadcasting more football games in 2013 than last season's total of 42, wouldn't engage in conference network comparisons during an interview with CBSSports.com this week.

But he seems content with how the Big Ten left the light on for the rest. The BTN saw a 12-percent ratings increase this year, he said. The Big Ten is finally done paying start-up costs and is moving into significant revenue. Illinois brought in $6.6 million last year from the BTN, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“It's been well-reported that BTN has done well,” Silverman said. “I think people see how well we've done and they are going to evaluate whether it makes sense for them to do a network or not. Some of the conferences have decided it does make sense.

“I don't think it's surprising. It's sort of the way the industry works. If what someone else is doing works, let's look at doing something successful.”

The BTN is renewing much of its programming from last year while adding a new show called “Forever Big,” a where-are-they-now ploy for catching up with conference stars from the '80s and '90s.

The network is busy preparing for the Maryland/Rutgers arrival, including the addition of a new control room and working with distributors in Maryland and New Jersey.

“We've had to invest a significant amount of money this year to build out our capabilities for next year,” Silverman said. “It's a good shot in the arm for the network to elevate to the next level. Our shelf space is getting very crowded for content.”

Silverman predicts television audiences will become “more and more fragmented than ever before,” which will increase the value of sports programming because of the exclusivity of carrying those games.

“I think you'll continue to see what you're seeing now, network television continuing to erode, online offerings continue to increase, and those of you who have a brand -- and I think our brand is as strong as any brand there is out there -- as well as unique compelling content, I think you're in a better position.”

When asked about whether the industry faces a healthy fear of customers feeling over-bundled, Silverman said he understands the growing viewpoint but calls the television package value “tremendous” when compared with relatively minor price increases.

Silverman doesn't think the a la carte television theory, backed by Sen. John McCain, makes sense.

“The a la carte scenario is one of those things that sounds good until you actually see what the reality will end of being,” Silverman said. “I think you'd end up paying considerably more and getting considerably less. It's just the nature of how people will end up pricing your network. ... If your goal is to keep revenue the same, how much are you going to have to charge people a month for these networks? I think that amount is so much greater than what some people believe a la carte would lower prices believe. They are considerably off.”

Vote for Barry: Every conference will have at least one attractive candidate for the playoff selection committee. For the Big Ten, that might be Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez, who could fill the role of former coach and administrator who's not so old (66) that he's out of touch with the game.

I'm not so sure the commissioners and BCS executive director Bill Hancock won't have a hard time persuading all the people they want to do it. More work hours and more scrutiny could push some away.

But Alvarez recently told CBSSports.com that, if asked, “I'd feel an obligation to do it.”

And he would want media by his side.

“Some well-respected media guys who from week-to-week would explain how difficult it was and why the rankings were as they were and the criteria, I think that really makes a lot of sense,” Alvarez said. “To explain to people as it goes along so you're not just on ESPN Sunday night, ‘Boom, throwing the rankings up with a number.'”

Oh hell yes -- right, Bob Stoops?

It's still uncertain how intense the playoff scrutiny will be each year. Some years, the decision might be clear-cut. Others, not so much.

The way Alvarez sees it, picking four is so much easier than two.

“I think we need to be transparent about that and say why we decided on these four rather than all of a sudden a computer kicks out that you're the third team and you're two hundreds of the point away from being in the championship game and you don't know the criteria of what went into computer rankings,” Alvarez said.

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