Comcast, BTN bring good news

Penn State football fans were spared a potential inconvenience when the Big Ten Network announced an agreement Friday with Comcast, ensuring access to BTN and Fox Sports 1.

That means the Nittany Lions’ season opener Saturday against Appalachian State at Beaver Stadium will be available to Comcast customers who have BTN.

Two early-season games set to air on FS1 will be available as well. Those are at noon Sept. 15 vs. Kent State and at 9 p.m. Sept. 21 at Illinois, a first-ever Friday night game for Penn State.

The potential of a season, or at least part of it, without BTN or FS1 on Comcast was real. When BTN launched in 2007, Comcast held off from adding the channel for a full year, eventually becoming one of the last companies to agree to carry the channel.

Similar to that impasse 11 years ago, this dispute centered on price, as Comcast balked about how much it must pay BTN for every cable subscriber who has access to the channel at part of its lineup.

A prolonged dispute also could have cost potential viewers access to ice hockey, wresting, and men’s and women’s basketball. Those would have been even more frustrating in some instances than not having football for some Penn State fans.

The resolution was a good business decision for the channels (BTN, FS1) and the cable company, which earlier this year dropped BTN in non-conference markets.

It also reaffirmed the power of live sports programming. While Comcast might have wanted a way to access lower-cost programming, college football and basketball games are not things viewers record and watch later. They watch live, and they attract advertisers as a result.

Along with the season opener, Penn State will appear at least once more this season on BTN because every conference team must appear at least twice on the conference channel.

Last season, Penn State had six games on BTN, just as it did in 2016. In 2015, the Nittany Lions were on BTN twice.

Because of the high expectations for the Nittany Lions, though, they might make only that minimum number of appearances.

The conference’s TV partners — ABC, BTN, ESPN, ESPN2 and FS1 — make selections regarding each week’s lineup throughout the season.

That’s why some game times later in the season are not set until a week beforehand.

Positioning personalities

Maybe people watched “Monday Night Football” decades ago because of Howard Cosell (although it was just as likely about the novelty and quality of games), but it has been years since an on-air talent has driven NFL viewership.

Even John Madden, who was good before he became a caricature of himself, worked games that drew big ratings because they involved strong teams.

Still, TV types continue to tout their broadcasters and the latest incarnation of “Monday Night Football” is no different. The four-person on-air team includes play-by-play man Joe Tessitore, analysts Jason Witten and Booger McFarland and reporter Lisa Salters.

Producer Jay Rothman tried to summarize each of them during a recent ESPN media event.

Here are his summaries: Tessitore, “Tess a combo of Brent Musburger and Dean Martin”; Jason Witten, “Captain American, a QB in a TE body”; McFarland, “football’s Charles Barkley”; and Salters, “Lisa is just a supreme journalist.”

Tuner tidbits

n ABC carries the title game of the Little League World Series at 3 p.m. today. Even with some rain delays and fewer home runs with less lively aluminum bats, the series again delivered entertaining matchups with several going to extra innings. The emotion and intimacy of the event invariably make it a winner in terms of how it plays on TV.

n WHVL-TV started its “Game of the Week” series Friday with Hollidaysburg-Altoona. It’s a notable commitment to high school football in the region, and the people in charge make an effort to spread coverage among a variety of teams during the season. The rest of the schedule includes: Bellefonte at Huntingdon (Aug. 31), Central at Clearfield (Sept. 7), Carlisle at State College (Sept. 14), Johnstown at Bishop Guilfoyle (Sept. 21), CD East at State College (Sept. 28), Clearfield at Tyrone (Oct. 5), Mt. Union at Bellwood-Antis (Oct. 12), DuBois at Hollidaysburg (Oct. 19) and Huntingdon at Tyrone (Oct. 26).

n The NitWits makes its 2018 debut tonight on WTAJ (11:35 p.m.). The regular panel includes the Mirror’s Neil Rudel, Mark Brennan of Lions 2-4-7/FightonState and WTAJ host Peter Terpstra and alternates former players including Mike Irwin, Joe Nastasi and Wally Richardson. The show also airs on Altoona Public Access Channel 14 and altoonamirror.com.

Sampsell can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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