DETROIT -- When Mark Silverman took the job as president of the Big Ten Network nearly five years ago, he understood that it was an experiment.
No college sports network had been launched on such a scale -- so the public's reaction was nearly as important as the televised action.
With the network now firmly established and successful by nearly any measure, this week Silverman will roll out a campaign to embrace "BTN," the commonly referred acronym for the network. New logos, some specific to each of the 12 schools, will be unveiled.
"Most of the people in the conference already call it BTN," Silverman said. "It happened on its own. We now want to be able to reflect that on air. It will become more integrated, having something with the BTN for shorthand, a logo more competitively where it speaks to our viewers with a wink. We get it, we're BTN."
Such adaptability has been essential to the network's growth. Long gone are the days of public distribution battles (it's now available in approximately 75-million homes), yet experimentation remains a crucial component of the programming.
In the beginning, the network was set up based on the sports models that existed, with a nightly news show ("Big Ten Report") and an attempt to mimic ESPN and Fox Sports on a smaller scale. Yet there was a quick realization that the news show didn't fit -- Silverman said they were scraping for 30 minutes of news with so few weekday collegiate events -- so that was abandoned.
"The Journey," the network's Sports Emmy-nominated men's basketball reality show, wasn't always that crisp, starting with a "Hard Knocks" style focus on one team initially before morphing into the current look at players and coaches from across the conference intertwined each week.
The hardest part, Silverman has found, is to be all things to all people, so learning about its audience has been a key component for BTN. Twice a year, the network assembles a viewer panel with three to four alums from each school, brings them to a major conference event (the Big Ten football meetings and the Big Ten men's basketball tournament) and picks their brains.
"I know what I've learned, the ratings, advertiser interest and those things, but we don't know it all," Silverman said. "We've gotten really close to this fan council. It plays a large part in formulating what we do."
One of the lessons learned was the need to be sport-specific. The football fans want just football -- reflected by the multiple nights of studio shows each fall around the sport -- and other fans are represented with a weekly women's sports night. This spring, BTN launched a "Diamond Report" for baseball and softball fans.
The network's mission remains clear: To serve at the behest of its primary owner, the Big Ten conference schools. That's why there's a constant straddling of the line between journalism and entertainment.
While they hustled to show Ohio State's violations news conference earlier this year, there has not been a breakdown of the Buckeyes' ongoing allegations.
"We're about representing the conference and focusing on the good things the conference represents," Silverman said. "Whatever happens at each university not related to the games is not our (focus)."
As for major coach hiring and firings, BTN will show a news conference if possible and do a bit of review -- that's when Silverman is thrilled to have host Dave Revsine with his journalist background -- but has tried to stay away from off-field predictions and speculation on negative issues (NCAA violations, coaching hot seats, etc.).
Building the brand is a constant challenge, and there are plans to eventually expand "The Journey" to women's basketball. This year there will be a coaches "Icons" show similar to the athlete "Icons" but without a countdown or rank.
Silverman has pursued and expanded football/basketball commentator Gus Johnson's role as well, given Johnson's national profile.
As for the upstart competitors -- various high-priced conference network deals announced in the past few years, Silverman doesn't seem threatened.
"I don't think it's affected us," he said. "We're watching to see how things play out. But we really haven't seen any kind of impact. We're still growing rapidly, ad sales grew another 30 percent last year. The early football sales are strong this year. We're growing well and referred to by a lot of people as starting this new trend.
"Until we see some of these networks up and running and I don't believe any have launched yet, I don't anticipate being impacted one way or another."