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Astros Owner Jim Crane yesterday said that the team "will fight efforts by creditors to drive Comcast SportsNet Houston into Chapter 11 bankruptcy," according to David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Astros General Counsel Giles Kibbe said that "elements of Comcast/NBC Universal have acted improperly by throwing partnership disputes into federal bankruptcy court." U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Marvin Isgur yesterday set Oct. 28 to "hear arguments by the Astros that the case should be dismissed and arguments by Comcast/NBC Universal affiliates that an interim trustee should be appointed to oversee the network, which is owned by the Astros, Rockets, and Comcast/NBC Universal." Crane and Kibbe said that CSN Houston "is solvent, that the case does not belong in bankruptcy court." They said the Astros "are not going to let those folks (Comcast/NBC) bully us around.” Barron noted it is "uncertain as to how the bankruptcy filling will affect efforts to gain carriage for CSN Houston." Crane and Kibbe said that they "believe that the goal of Comcast/NBC, which owns about 20 percent of the company, is to gain full control of CSN Houston by wiping out the Astros’ 46 percent share of the company and, through bankruptcy court reorganization, tying the team to a lesser rights fee that Crane said would damage the Astros’ chances of making enough money to field a competitive team." Comcast/NBC offered last week to "buy the Astros’ equity in CSN Houston, but the Astros refused and made a counteroffer that Comcast/NBC turned down." The Astros "made a second counteroffer but have yet to receive a response."
COVERAGE PLAN: Crane said that if the Astros "are able to receive their broadcast rights back from Comcast/NBC, he has a plan to have games fully distributed next season." He "did not say who would be his partner or partners in this venture." Kibbe said that the Astros had to return 46% "of their monthly rights fee payments for May and June to keep the network financially solvent and have not received any payments for July, August or September." He said that the Rockets "received their full rights fee, which was paid during the months the team was playing games" (CHRON.com, 9/30).
SO LONG, FAREWELL...: The CHRONICLE's Barron reported CSN Houston President & GM Matt Hutchings resigned yesterday. Hutchings will become COO of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment in Denver, where he worked as President & CEO of Altitude Sports & Entertainment, the RSN that airs Nuggets and Avalanche games, before "returning to his hometown of Houston to launch CSN Houston." Comcast Sports Group Senior VP/Production, Programming & Station Operations Tom Stathakes "will work directly with the local production team while retaining his corporate responsibilities" (CHRON.com, 9/30).
ESPN earned a 9.7 overnight rating for the Saints' 38-17 win over the Dolphins on “MNF” last night, down 16% from an 11.6 overnight for Bears-Cowboys in Week 4 last year. Dolphins-Saints is also up 21% from a 8.0 for Colts-Buccaneers in ’11 and down 6% from a 10.3 for Patriots-Dolphins in ’10. In Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, the game earned a 13.1 local rating on ESPN and a 4.0 rating on WSFL-CW. In New Orleans, the game earned a 21.7 rating on ESPN and a 39.3 rating on WDSU-NBC. Rounding out the top five markets were West Palm Beach, Sacramento and San Diego (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).
PREENING PEACOCK: In N.Y., Claire Atkinson writes NBC's primetime ratings for the first week of the fall season are giving NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke "some much-needed ammo when it comes to closing the network's profitability gap with rivals." The net, "buoyed by strong openings by the NFL, 'The Voice,' and a handful of new shows such as 'The Blacklist,'" saw primetime ratings grow 41% "in the first four days of the season." However, critics "would say that NBC has started out hot in the past, only to fall flat." For example, NBC "won the first 13 weeks of last season, but then flopped midseason as its shows collapsed without the aide of NFL games and 'The Voice.'" Horizon Media Research Dir Brad Adgate said of the net broadcasting the '14 Sochi Games in February: "I do think the Olympics will give them a huge boost. I think they’ll finish second to CBS this season. Sports is one huge advantage they have over ABC" (N.Y. POST, 10/1).
LOST SIGNAL: DirecTV yesterday said that it had "resolved a technical glitch which saw subscribers in several major markets lose access to local broadcast TV channels, including customers in New York, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Alabama, Illinois and Maine" on Sunday afternoon. DirecTV PR Dir Robert Mercer said that the outage "lasted for 50 minutes, and that it impacted its local channel lineup in about 40 markets." FIERCECABLE.com's Steve Donohue reported the outage "left thousands of DirecTV subscribers unable to watch NFL games on local CBS and Fox stations" (FIERCECABLE.com, 9/30).
TBS earned 2.4 overnight for the Rays’ 5-2 win over the Rangers in the AL Wild Card tiebreaker last night from 8:00-11:30pm ET. The telecast had strong competition ESPN’s “MNF,” NBC's "The Voice" and ABC's "Dancing With The Stars." The telecast peaked at a 2.9 rating from 10:45-11:00pm. Tampa-St. Petersburg earned a 12.8 local rating for the game, while Dallas-Ft. Worth earned an 11.3 rating. The last MLB tiebreaker was played in ’09, with TBS earning a 4.5 overnight for the Twins’ extra-innings defeat of the Tigers on a Tuesday from 5:00-10:00pm. A Twins-White Sox tiebreaker in ’08 on TBS earned a 3.3 overnight from 7:30-10:00pm. Rays-Rangers is even with the Rockies-Padres tiebreaker in ’07, which aired on a Monday from 7:30pm-12:17am (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).
STRONG START: Turner said that it has "sold nearly 80 percent of its available ad inventory for the MLB postseason, slightly ahead of last year at a comparable point, and encouraging enough to suggest a likely full sellout as in 2012." SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Fisher & Ourand note Budweiser is "again the presenting sponsor of the wild-card games." New MLB sponsor T-Mobile has "bought the presenting rights to the league division series round, and Capital One has those rights" for the NLCS. Turner is "primarily selling ad inventory across its postseason rights this year: the wild-card games, all LDS, and the NLCS." But the net is "holding back some avails from the NLCS." Turner Sports Exec VP/Ad Sales & Marketing Jon Diament said that as teams "move on, their seasonlong sponsors will be looking to buy spots" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/30 issue). Diament said that if there are audience shortfalls for the MLB postseason broadcasts, TBS "would try to position make-goods within the property, but could offer units in its NBA presentation if advertisers had fourth-quarter flighting needs." MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds noted new advertisers for TBS' '13 MLB postseason include Joe's Crab Shack, Toyota, Volvo, Novartis and Midas. Diament said that the "telco/hardware arena has been quite active." Reynolds noted QSR has been "another big category." Many of TBS' postseason sponsors were "moved up" into the Rays-Rangers broadcast. However, Diament’s team yesterday was "exploring some last-minute opportunities with local companies around the participating clubs" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 9/30).
BELLS AND WHISTLES: BROADCASTING & CABLE's George Winslow reports Fox and Turner are preparing for postseason coverage "by developing a number of newer technologies to improve their look and provide announcers with additional features." One example is the "Phantom super-slow-motion camera from Vision Research that Fox used in last year’s postseason coverage and Turner will be fielding for the first time." Fox Sports VP/Field Operations Mike Davies said, "It shoots at anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 frames per second, so you can see things that you can’t with other cameras, like the bat bend and the spin on the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand." Turner also has been "working on what it is calling a 'Truss Cam,' which will be mounted on a trolley moving 125 to 250 feet in either direction along the outfield wall at up to 25 miles per hour." Fox is "hoping to provide a new perspective on the game thanks to an HD 'Dirtcam.'" The net "tried the set-up at the All-Star Game but was unable to use the shots because of a lens flare from the lights, a problem it has since fixed." An Ultra HD slow-motion camera from Vision Research also will "get its postseason debut for use in replays" (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 9/30 issue).
ATTENTION GRAB: In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote the "best way to maximize baseball’s postseason TV ratings is to keep the media’s focus on the field," but that "won’t be easy." Not only will MLB be "going up against" Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez "in a highly anticipated arbitration hearing, it will be competing against him for media attention, the kind of coverage needed to drive postseason TV ratings to the promised land." The hearing was held yesterday "at an undisclosed location" in N.Y. The Rodriguez story "could end up overshadowing a portion of the playoffs." TBS will not "ignore" it. TBS' Ron Darling said, "Cal (Ripken) and I will address it because that’s what we have to do" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/29).
The Trail Blazers have "featured a dizzying array of six team websites" in the last eight years, but by their Nov. 2 home-opener, the portals "will be whittled to one, trailblazers.com," according to Allan Brettman of the Portland OREGONIAN. The team's sole website, which "already features an imprint of change, will include the services offered previously on the other sites.” Changing the team’s web presence was "one of the changes" Blazers President & CEO Chris McGowan targeted when he joined the organization in November. Perceiving the multiple sites as confusing, he “wondered why the team had chosen to create its own web presence rather than partnering" with NBA digital services like every team in the league other than the Mavericks. Blazers VP/Marketing & Digital Dewayne Hankins said that the sites “have not been changed since their creation” and are “outdated.” Hankins has "overseen the curation of a new site as well as other digital changes planned,” including a new smartphone app to "replace the inaugural app that was launched last November but experienced several snafus." The new app will "work with iPhone as well as Android devices," whereas its predecessor “worked only with iPhone, or IOS, devices.” In addition, the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter will "allow fans to connect the wireless devices through an enhanced Wi-Fi and telephone system." Team officials "expect the vast majority of fans to access digital information through mobile devices" at some point during games. In-arena changes also will "accommodate the tweeting, photo sharing and Facebook posting that typically takes place during a game." Hankins said, "It's what we call the 'second-screen experience'" (Portland OREGONIAN, 10/1).