Comcast SportsNet Houston Launches Today, Still Seeking Full Distribution
Comcast SportsNet Houston signs on today at 5:00pm CT “as a tried-and-true formula for a new generation of Houston sports fans,” according to David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. The new RSN is a “joint venture of the Astros, Rockets and NBC Sports Group” and will air Rockets games this fall and Astros games next year. It will also “feature a weekday talk show and three daily sportscasts” as well as “a Texans postgame show” beginning Oct. 10. Many of the net’s “lead faces come from other CSN affiliates," including Kelli Johnson from CSN Mid-Atlantic and Marius Payton from The mtn. The net has carriage deals with Comcast, Phonoscope, Coastal Link and En-Touch in the Houston area, but “will not be available from other cable providers” on DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T U-verse or Verizon FiOS. Team and network officials are “uniformly optimistic” that the RSN "will reach full distribution in the Houston area before the Rockets open the regular season Oct. 31." Barron writes it “remains to be seen whether the Rockets and Astros, as majority stockholders, will countenance unvarnished coverage” of the team and “whether the network will be more observer than cheerleader.” Rockets CEO Tad Brown said, “We don't plan to be Big Brother, monitoring everything, but we have an interest in seeing that our team does well and is promoted well” (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 10/1).
TWC ALSO PREPS LAUNCH: VARIETY’s Jon Weisman noted Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Spanish-language TWC Deportes will launch today at 7:00pm PT with the Lakers "as their centerpiece.” The channels have distribution on TWC systems, but “negotiations with other providers such as DirecTV” are ongoing. The NBA regular season begins Oct. 30, “with the first scheduled TWC Laker broadcast the following night.” Weisman noted of the negotiations with DirecTV, “Given the popularity of the Lakers and the lesson from the Pac-12 that nothing is automatic, anxiety will rise daily through October -- and any delay into November will cause an uproar” (VARIETY.com, 9/28). The AP's Ryan Nakashima cited a source as saying that TWC is “asking as much as $3.95 per subscriber per month from competitors in the L.A. area.” Data from research firm SNL Kagan shows that price would make it “the second most expensive" RSN in the nation behind CSN Mid-Atlantic, "which charges $4.02 per subscriber per month." Dish Corporate Communications Head Bob Toevs “confirmed that talks are ongoing.” However, he said, “It will have to be a good value for us and, most importantly, for our customers.” DirecTV in a statement said that it is “very engaged” in talks to carry the channels, but added that it has “a responsibility to its customers to ‘avoid any extraordinary increases’ in their monthly bills” (AP, 9/30). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth noted “an estimated 3 million viewers in greater L.A. are on a TV system other than TWC, with DirecTV accounting for more than 1 million of those.” There are “6 million customers in the Lakers' TV territory that goes north to Fresno, south to the Mexican border, west to Hawaii and east to Las Vegas.” The immediate success of TWC SportsNet “could also be critical to the Dodgers' financial future,” as the team's deal with Prime Ticket ends after ’13. Prime Ticket has “six weeks from Oct. 15 to Nov. 30 to negotiate an extension.” Otherwise, “expect TWC to jump in" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 9/28).
SPORTS SELLS: TWC Chief Programming Officer Melinda Witmer said of the recent launches of several RSNs, “There’s been a lot going on, certainly on the college level with conference realignment and a reliance on television revenue to help support universities and their athletic programs. I’m not surprised that there’s been more talk about potential additional product coming to the marketplace.” NBC Sports Group President Jon Litner said, “It’s no different than it’s been in the past. There have been some networks that have had stronger value propositions than others. Some will gain distribution quicker than others. Time will tell how much stress is in the market. … Nothing is as strong as live sports, particularly when the teams are winning” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 10/1 issue).