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Apple looks to re-enter Big Ten media talks

By John Ourand and Michael Smith

Soon after the news about USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten broke, an Apple exec called the conference with a simple message: It wanted to reengage in media-rights talks. That call was emblematic of a chaotic day where media companies that had spent months finalizing how much they would pay for Big Ten rights were rushing back to the drawing board to see how the addition of two high-profile schools would change their bidding strategy. It seems certain that negotiations now will extend into August and may be completed after Labor Day. Originally, the Big Ten had been planning to wrap up its rights negotiations at some point in July.

The Big Ten was expected to be the first college conference to eclipse $1B in media-rights fees annually -- and that was before USC and UCLA said they would join. Fox Sports already had reached a deal to carry at least half of the conference’s package, and CBS was viewed as a front-runner to take at least a package of Saturday football games in the 3:30pm ET window. That left Amazon, ESPN and NBC competing for a third package. As late as this morning, Apple and Warner Bros. Discovery were not viewed as credible bidders. That could all change.

The move also makes the Big Ten more valuable to media companies by devaluing a Plan B for the companies that don’t get Big Ten rights. Yesterday, media companies left out of the Big Ten would have turned their focus to the Pac-12. But the defections of USC and UCLA have caused media companies to question the value of focusing on the Pac-12.

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