Like most Milwaukeeans, I won't be able to watch the Wisconsin Badgers take on top-ranked Ohio State Saturday morning from the comfort of my own couch.
Thanks to the ongoing staring contest between Time Warner Cable and the Big Ten Network, local cable subscribers will need to find somebody with a satellite dish or head to a local tavern -- that has a dish -- to watch the showdown from Ohio Stadium.
The root of this battle is money. The Big Ten Conference wants its network placed on a standard tier and is asking Time Warner to fork over $1.10 per subscriber. The cable company, on the other hand, wants to make the channel available as part of a premium sports package, which would require customers to purchase additional programming.
Time Warner says the BTN is a niche network with limited appeal while the Big Ten says it has a nationwide following. In the long run, both sides are equally to blame and need to come up with a solution ... fast.
It's not hard to see where Time Warner is coming from. Not every body likes sports, and why should the cable company have to shell out big bucks for a station that may not get a lot of viewers? But if that's the case, why are there three religious networks on the basic package? Or the two Spanish-language channels? It's a pretty good bet that not everybody in town speaks Spanish. Never mind the fact that there are three shopping channels listed on the online cable guide.
It isn't a stretch to think that Time Warner could generate a lot of advertising revenue on a station that at least the same amount of people buying second-rate jewelry from an infomercial would be watching.
On the other hand, it's the Big Ten that decided to start its own network. Gone are the weekly syndicated packages that were available to over-the-air customers. While most games still ended up on ESPN or ESPN2, at least those channels are available to standard cable customers.
This entire mess is stupid. Instead of spending the time and effort with commercials and ad campaigns, both sides need to sit at the table tomorrow morning and come up with a plan. Everybody is allowed to make a buck or two, but when you start depriving your customers of a product, you end up doing a lot more damage in the long run.
Some state lawmakers, meanwhile, introduced a bill this week that would establish an arbitration system to work out the disagreements between sports networks like the Big Ten's and the NFL Network (which will air the Packers-Cowboys game on Thursday, Nov. 29).
In the meantime, your best bet is to call your favorite bar to find out if they have a dish. At least you won't have to clean up the mess afterwards.