Friday, May 27, 2016

As summer begins, it's slow season for BTN

If it’s almost June, it’s almost the toughest time of the year for the Big Ten Network. With the academic year over at member institutions and spring sports seasons winding down, programmers know it’s the slow season on BTN.

“Once baseball and softball and lacrosse end, it does become a challenge for us,” said Michael Calderon, BTN’s vice president of programming and digital media. Without live games -- the most valuable asset for any network that carries sports -- driving viewership becomes a bigger challenge. Calderon and his team embrace the challenge and related opportunities, though.

“We’ve tried different things in the past -- school-themed days, sports-themed days,” Calderon said. “The one thing I think we’ve learned in our first nine years is that peoples’ attention spans are shorter and shorter.”

To accommodate that, BTN changed the format of almost all its game replays 18 months ago. All replays now feature only more recent parts of the BTN library, games broadcast in high definition, and must fit in a 60-minute window.

BTN’s lean editing staff and several interns will stay busy this summer. Calderon said the network plans to edit and air at least 45 more games. He thinks another two dozen games could get edited as well.

Summer interns often focus on editing specific projects -- clips related to a school or a list of players from a school or a sport. It’s all valuable work that helps boost BTN’s archives and put the network in a position to better serve viewers.

Calderon and his team, who are in regular contact with any number of stakeholders (including administrators, coaches, faculty representatives, sports information personnel and even Fox Sports, which owns 51 percent of BTN), already have a lot of programming set for fall and winter seasons.

Some prime time BTN football games were announced a few weeks ago and Calderon said schedules for fall Olympic sports are 99 percent complete. Balancing the schedule during the busy season provides and even bigger challenge than planning and preparing during the briefly slow summer.

“The most difficult thing is trying to squeeze 500-plus live events into a nine-month calendar. There are a lot of fluid parts. It’s a jigsaw puzzle,” Calderon said. “It’s a big challenge to put it all together but it’s a lot of fun as well. We try to work to have a more macro schedule, so we’re not doing women’s soccer or men’s soccer in a silo. We consider all four sports (men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey and women’s volleyball) together, so we can put the best of the best on TV.”

Also, Calderon said nobody at BTN specifically tracks which conference schools appear on TV any more than any others. At best, it’s an informal process. “We try to be fair,” he said. “Certainly if we do a football or basketball themed week there are schools that are better at those sports than others, and might show up more as a result. We know we’re all partners, though.”

Even when all the games are set, an actual broadcast schedule gets announced only two weeks ahead of time. So, July’s schedule -- which will include the start of football season thanks to the conference’s media days and meetings -- should be announced in mid-June.

“Once we get to the kickoff luncheon in July, things get into gear,” Calderon said.