SBJ/September 4 - 10, 2006/This Weeks News

Mountain RSN coming into focus

When Comcast agreed to take a 50 percent ownership stake in the Mountain West Conference’s RSN six weeks ago, it was buying a concept more than an actual channel.

Though CSTV had locked in the programming rights for the conference’s games, the channel had no general manager, no on-air set and no meaningful distribution. There were so many questions about who would run the network, where it would be seen and what its programming lineup would look like that many people questioned whether it would be able to meet its planned Sept. 1 launch.

Thanks to a flurry of activity last week, channel executives addressed many of those questions.

The net hired Kim Carver from ESPN Star Sports to be the face of the channel as general manager. It completed its on-air set and finished its headquarters’ move into Denver’s Comcast Media Center. And it forged a significant carriage deal with Bresnan Communications, the country’s 14th largest multiple system operator, which will carry the channel on both its digital and expanded basic tiers.

Bresnan has 300,000 subscribers in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Utah.

Network executives were convinced that more carriage deals would be signed by its launch late last week. The channel hopes to be in 3 million homes soon after launch, network sources said.

“Even if you have nine months to prepare, it always all comes down to the last six weeks anyway,” a network source said.

The channel appeared to be no closer to gaining carriage on Cox Communications, which operates cable systems in three Mountain West markets: San Diego, Dallas/Fort Worth and Las Vegas. Late last week, Cox’s Bob Wilson said the two sides still were far apart.

“We’re willing to fight that battle based on the current offer,” he said.

Though the network’s license fee is on par with other RSNs at about 60 cents per subscriber, Cox balked at attempts to bundle the network’s carriage with its part-owner, CSTV, which increased that license fee significantly.

“How much can we expect our consumers to pay for more and more and more sports?” Wilson asked.

The network was scheduled to launch Friday night with a live preview show from the network’s studio in Denver. The show was scheduled to be repeated a couple of times on Saturday morning before the network launched into a live pregame show for the Weber State-Colorado State game.

After a second game (Portland State-New Mexico), the network planned a wrap-up show of all games played that day with highlights and features focused on the Mountain West Conference, but it planned on including coverage of other conferences, as well.

At launch, much of the weekend programming will be repeated on weekdays.

The network’s cachet is that it exists in places such as Utah, where the conference’s teams (Brigham Young and Utah) are the only games in the state.

“When you’re in Salt Lake City, and you have Utah and Brigham Young, there is no clutter,” said Comcast SportsNet President and CEO Jack Williams. “That’s what’s important in that marketplace.”

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