CSN Houston Takes to Air in Affiliate Battle

With the Houston Astros game on April 5 marking the first contest that was not available on another TV outlet, Comcast SportsNet Houston took to the air to get its carriage message across.

When the club played the Oakland Athletics on Friday night, the regional sports network flew a banner over Minute Maid Park looking to further engage Houston residents in its battle to land affiliate pacts with key providers. Sans distribution deals, Friday's action and Astros contests to follow -- CSN Houston is scheduled to televise 157 ballgames -- will only be available to about 40% of the residents in the Houston DMA.

The banner read: "DirecTV, AT&T and Dish dropped your Houston teams…But your bill is the same.” The message was underlined by the Web address, IwantCSN Houston.com.

The RSN, owned by the Astros, the NBA Houston Rockets and Comcast’s NBC Sports Group, has distribution on Comcast in parts of Louisiana and Little Rock, Arkansas, as well as Houston. Combined with deals with small providers, Coastal Link, Consolidated Communications, EnTouch and Phonoscope, CSN Houston has about 40% coverage in Houston, the nation’s 10th largest DMA with 2.2 million TV homes.

However, it has been unable to reach affiliate accords with DirecTV, Dish Network, AT& U-Verse, Suddenlink, Time Warner Cable and other providers serving its TV territory in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico. Sources indicate that CSN Houston is asking for a monthly subscriber license fee of $3.40.

While the March 31 season opener versus the Texas Rangers appeared nationally on ESPN and subsequent games against the Rangers aired on Fox Sports Southwest -- the former RSN home of the Astros and Rockets -- the April 5 meeting with the A’s marked the first time that the majority of area fans did not have TV access to the hometown team.

On Wednesday, the RSN flew banners over AT&T and DirecTV offices in Southern California on Wednesday reading, “Give Houston fans their Astros, Rockets and Dynamo” and cited the IWantCSNHouston.com. The Houston Dynamo franchise is a member of Major League Soccer.

CSN Houston president and general manager Matt Hutchings said the flyovers are “simply emblematic of the lengths that we will go to on behalf of our Houston fans as we continue our push for distribution.  We’ve already seen a healthy uptick in the number of visitors to the iwantCSNHouston site and the amount of petitions that have been signed, so these flyovers and our other efforts are definitely adding to the pressure.” 

Marketing moves aside, CSN Houston officials say the RSN remains in ongoing negotiations with providers. “As the Rockets head into the playoffs and the Astros and Dynamo seasons get underway, the situation here is reaching a boiling point that these providers can no longer ignore,” said Hutchings. “Houston fans deserve the same treatment as fans in Dallas and other top markets. That is all we’re asking for and will continue to ask for.”