The Big Ten Network’s Omnichannel Evolution Is Paying Off With Increased TV and Digital Viewership

New endeavor MVPE underscores impressive 10-year development

A college sports media pioneer continues to innovate.
Illustration: Dan Page

The Big Ten Network (BTN) is celebrating its 10th birthday heading into the 2017 college football season, which begins in earnest this weekend, by doing what it’s been doing for the past several years—innovating with an eye toward an increasingly digital future. Chief to this notion is a video pilot program that’s rolling out with the aim of producing short-form content across digital, social and the athletic conference’s groundbreaking TV channel.

BTN, which was a first of its kind among college conferences in 2007, is dubbing the initiative MVPE, an acronym for multiplatform video producer/editor. Participants, who are called MVPEs, will develop ongoing coverage of football, men’s basketball and Olympic sports, bringing viewers inside locker rooms, to team practices and other behind-the-scenes scenarios that social media users—and perhaps more importantly, young consumers—typically enjoy. While the aim is to eventually bring MVPE to all 14 of the Big Ten’s campuses, the pilot is starting at Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Penn State.

Mark Silverman, president of BTN, said the footage will represent “events that we didn’t have the ability to cover in the past given that we are based out of Chicago.”

His network has 60 million TV subscribers in the U.S. and Canada and grew live football viewership by 26 percent between 2013 and 2016. What’s perhaps more interesting for those watching the cord-cutting phenomenon is that digital viewership jumped 131 percent in 2016 compared with the prior year.

Such stats underscore how media companies are moving toward omnichannel, a cross-platform strategy and a term first made popular in the past half decade by retailers. For TV brands, it’s all about reaching cord cutters. And BTN’s conference TV competitors have also been busy undergoing digital transformations, particularly the Pac-12 Network, which has been streaming various sports on Twitter since last year.

Meanwhile, here are several of BTN’s key moments from the past 10 years when it comes to its omnichannel evolution:

  • 2007: It created a new media team.
  • 2011: The BTN2Go mobile app launched.
  • 2013: It became one of the first TV players to experiment with Instagram Stories as a reporting tool.
  • 2014: The conference launched the digital service BTN Plus, which lets subscribers watch their schools live for $10 a month when it comes to non-televised sporting events.
  • 2014-15: BTN began monetizing video on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
  • 2016: BTN shifted strategy for its Emmy-nominated program, The Journey, and started promoting the show on social platforms ahead of the broadcast.
  • 2017: The network inked deals with Hulu TV and YouTube TV to become available to cord cutters.
  • 2017: BTN introduced the MVPE program.