PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

March 28, 2013

CSN Houston: "Less and less optimistic" carriage deals done by Opening Day

David Coleman
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — With the season fast approaching, the new TV home for the Astros is no closer to appearing in local homes. CSN Houston president Matt Hutchings said in an interview Thursday that the network is, “less and less optimistic” that a deal with the remaining cable providers would be struck by Opening Day.

“We have worked extraordinarily hard here in Houston, trying to get deals done,” Hutchings said. “Despite all on-going efforts, we are growing less optimistic by the day that a deal is done by start of season, including Sunday and Tuesday, our first day to cover the team.

“Our goal from day one has been that we wanted full in our five state region. We worked to make it happen by the network’s launch date. We worked to get it done by Opening Day for the Rockets, for the Dynamo and now with the Astros.”

Currently, CSN Houston has distribution deals with parent company Comcast, Phonoscope, Coastal Link, En-Touch and Consolidated Commuication, making up about 40 percent of the Houston TV market. In the Beaumont/Port Arthur area, the network is not carried by any of the major cable providers like Time Warner or DirecTV.

Hutchings said he has proposals out to all the remaining networks and that negotiations are ongoing.

“We have conversations multiple times a day with our counterparts in negotiations,” Hutchings said. “There are multiple components to the deal. There’s a lot going on, and all hands are on deck around here to get a deal done. We are moving everything forward as fast and as furiously as possible.”

On Wednesday, Houston mayor Annise Parker weighed in on the impasse in negotiations at a question and answer session after a city council meeting.

“It’s a real shame that we can’t reach a businesslike resolution to a problem that keeps Houstonians – who have paid for the venues that these teams play in – from watching their hometown teams,” Parker told the Houston Chroncle’s David Barron. “… I encourage all sides to get together. I don’t have a role in this, but as a fan, as someone who cares about sports in Houston, this situation is intolerable and they need to get together and get it done.

“It is about dollars.I respect the fact that a cable provider has to provide what they consider the best value for their shareholders and for their customers but, again, the taxpayers of Houston paid for these venues, we want the opportunity to watch the major league teams that we support play.

“I just continue, on behalf of the fans, to urge everybody to come together and get it resolved. We can’t do much for the Rockets season, but surely we can get something done before we lose the entire baseball and soccer seasons, as well.”

DirecTV has been a vocal dissenter to the rise of new regional sports networks (RSNs) and has posted a statement on its website.

“We have yet to be able to reach an agreement with the owners of CSN Houston that allows customers to choose whether they want to pay to see Astros or Rockets games or not,” the statement reads. “We are ready and willing to have that discussion any time so we can begin providing this network.”

The main point of contention from DirecTV’s side seems to be where the channel is placed. While Hutchings declined to provide specifics on any negotiations, reports indicate that DirecTV wants to place CSN Houston on its sports tier, instead of providing it to subscribers in CSN Houston’s region as part of its basic package.

Hutchings discussed this in general, noting that Houston is the only top 10 media market that does not have an RSN on DirecTV’s basic package that carries local pro sports teams.

“In every top 10 market, regional networks are carried in these systems,” Hutchings said. “DirecTV carries local RSNs in every top market. It’s confusing that Houston fans are being treated unfairly. They are not being treated the same as other markets, like Dallas. We offered our network at a competitive market rate, which is a good value for the cost, which is pennies a day. Houston and Houston teams should not be penalized.”

Hutchings also said that CSN Houston’s intelligence suggests that the cost to carry an RSN in the Houston market is cheaper than to carry one in Dallas, yet the Houston media market remains shut out to 60 percent of its fans.

Fans in Southeast Texas may not be in the Houston area, but almost 90,000 fans from every region in CSN Houston’s coverage area have contacted their service providers asking to have the channel added.

“One thing I’ve learned is that fans hold much more power than they think they do,” Hutchings said. “Fans should call their providers and demand that they are treated the same way as fans in other major markets. Dallas gets their teams, why shouldn’t Houston? Dallas is treated with respect. We’re asking the same.

“We’ve got nearly 90,000 petitions registered through our website, through signatures collected on the street and through our toll free numbers. We’ve put the proposals in front of the providers. Now, they need to hear from fans. Fans should demand money back off their bill. Fans should tell them, ‘if a provider hasn’t put it on, I’m going to make a choice.’”