Comcast Subscribers May Lose Big Ten Network, Fox Warns

Disney To Buy 21st Century Fox's Entertainment Business
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 14: A 21st Century Fox flag flies outside the News Corporation building in Midtown Manhattan, December 14, 2017 in New York City. The Walt Disney Company announced on Thursday morning that it had reached a deal to purchase most of the assets of 21st Century Fox. Fox News will remain with Fox/News Corp and not go to Disney. The deal has a total value of around $66 billion, with Disney assuming $13.7 billion of Fox's net debt. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer—Getty Images

Just days after dropping its bid for 21st Century Fox Inc.’s assets, Comcast Corp. is facing a new challenge from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire: a public dispute over a college-sports channel.

Comcast subscribers may lose access to the Big Ten Network as Fox quarrels with the cable giant over a new contract, Mark Silverman, Fox’s president of national networks, said Tuesday in prepared remarks at a media event in Chicago.

The Big Ten Network, a joint venture between Fox and the Big Ten Conference, broadcasts sports involving teams from universities across the Midwest, including some whose alumni reside in Chicago, one of Comcast’s largest markets. The Big Ten Network has about 60 million subscribers nationwide, and about a third are Comcast subscribers.

The channel’s contract with Comcast expires at the end of August and also covers Big Ten sporting events on Fox’s sports channel, FS1. If the two sides can’t reach a deal by then, FS1 plans to air other programming when Big Ten games would air on that channel.

Silverman said Fox has made offers to Comcast as far back as February, but “we’ve had no substantive response.”

‘Real Possibility’

“I am letting everyone know this in order to alert Comcast subscribers of the real possibility that they may lose BTN and Big Ten football games on FS1 this season,” he said.

Fox, based in New York, plans to launch an online marketing campaign Tuesday with a phone number that will connect fans to Comcast’s customer service, so they can lobby the cable company to keep the channel.

“We are communicating with the Big Ten Network about continuing to carry it after Aug. 31 and look forward to productive negotiations,” Comcast said in an emailed statement.

Media companies frequently fight over contracts that ensure a channel gets carried on a cable system. But as more consumers abandon their cable subscriptions, the negotiations have grown increasingly tense. In 2015, Comcast dropped Fox’s YES Network, which airs the New York Yankees, for more than a year during a contract dispute. That affected 900,000 subscribers in New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

The current clash between Comcast and Fox is notable because the Philadelphia-based cable company had fought for months to acquire a big piece of Murdoch’s empire. Comcast ended its pursuit of Fox last week, bowing out and allowing Walt Disney Co. to move forward with its plan to buy the assets.

The Big Ten Network wasn’t part of the proposed sale. That channel and FS1 will be part of a new company that will also include the Fox News channel and Fox broadcast network.

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