Lions' cable viewers shut out as Comcast talks hit a snag

Penn State fans in Philadelphia hoping to watch the Nittany Lions' season opener against Florida International on television tomorrow are in a state of dead air.

Negotiations between Comcast Cable and the Big Ten Network (which is co-owned by the Fox Cable Networks and the Big Ten Conference) have hit a major snag.

"I do not see any prospect of quick resolution to this problem," David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corp., said yesterday. He said that "multiple discussions" had taken place this week between Fox and Comcast, but that none were meaningful enough to strike a deal.

The Big Ten Network was similarly pessimistic.

"At this point, there are no negotiations taking place," said Mark Silverman, the network's president. "I don't see anything [being worked out] in the near future."

The Big Ten Network launched its coverage last night, and Penn State's first game will be shown on the network. Only viewers in the Philadelphia area who subscribe to DirecTV will be able to watch the game.

The Big Ten Network wants to be part of the basic cable package for Comcast subscribers. According to Comcast, the channel would cost subscribers about $1.10 more per month. Comcast officials said other channels were offered at a fraction of that cost.

Comcast wants to make the Big Ten Network part of a "sports tier" package that subscribers would pay more to see. The sports tier includes the NFL Network.

So far, the Big Ten Network has deals only with DirecTV and smaller regional cable operators.

At least three Penn State games will be televised by the Big Ten Network. The remainder will be shown on ABC/ESPN or NBC, or in syndication.

The Big Ten Network will show six games tomorrow, and will offer pregame specials and analysis shows.

Silverman said the demand for the network was high and could force a deal to be made with Comcast.

"For the first time, fans will be missing programming and missing games," Silverman said. "I think that may help bring us together with Comcast to negotiate. . . . I think the level of angst is high [for fans]. We know fans are upset and they want to see this programming."

Cohen said the demand had been minimal.

"Virtually nothing," he said. "Consumers are tired of getting expensive channels they don't want to watch. . . . We don't think that the vast majority of our customers who are not interested in it should pay to enrich 11 universities and Fox."

Silverman said the Big Ten Network would continue to work to widen its audience.

Contact staff writer Shannon Ryan at 215-854-5503 or