Tuesday, October 7, 2014, 9:32 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Big Ten Network (BTN) is the latest example of how sports fans are benefiting from online video's rise - gaining more convenient access, more content choices and additional packaging options.
BTN rolled out BTN2Go, its TV Everywhere service, four years ago, which is currently available to over 90% of its 60 million+ subscribers. Now, it is using BTN2Go as its platform brand and has introduced BTN Plus, a "hybrid TV Everywhere" service, which includes non-televised games and events from Big Ten schools and is available exclusively online and on connected devices. BTN Plus takes the place of previously fragmented efforts by individual schools under the CBSSports.com brand.
The entire BTN2Go platform is powered by the NeuLion TV Everywhere platform, which has quietly become a powerhouse for helping sports rights holders like NFL, NHL, UFC, NBA, Rogers Media and others fully capitalize on OTT opportunities. BTN Plus is actually the second hybrid TV Everywhere service NeuLion is powering, following Tennis Channel's launch of Tennis Channel Plus last May, which features over 300 events.
The hybrid TV Everywhere approach is very clever for a number of reasons, most importantly that it uses online to create a new revenue stream for rights holders by super-serving fans. As Michael Calderon, BTN's VP, Programming and Digital Media told me, BTN actually promotes BTN Plus aggressively on its air, using tactics like splitting the screen to show 3 other volleyball games that are only available on BTN Plus. Cost-effective marketing tactics like these have helped BTN Plus to out-pace projections.
BTN Plus also offers 4 different price points, designed to address audience needs. A "Conference pass" provides access to everything, while a "School pass" provides access solely to one school's games. These are all offered online, and the monthly passes in particular allow "easy-in, easy-out" subscribing that Netflix, Hulu Plus and others have popularized.
Also unique about BTN Plus is that the events are produced mainly by students, which gives them much-desired sports production experience (Michael said many go on to work at BTN and other TV networks). BTN provides the equipment and training. The big benefit here to BTN is that it keeps costs down, helping permit flexible pricing.
Michael noted that one of the complexities of all this is executing clear, accurate messaging to audiences. BTN has worked closely with NeuLion to create detailed iconography for particular sports, plus unique scheduling and informational pages. Critically, NeuLion's platform enabled BTN to securely and properly package its content with user interfaces that give viewers quick and easy access.
BTN Plus is part of a larger wave of sports rights holders and networks going beyond TV Everywhere to fully monetize their content. Other examples include NFL Now and just yesterday news that ESPN will create an online video service with the NBA. All of these initiatives demonstrate how online is opening up new ways to monetize beyond traditional linear TV.