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Empty Seats on Opening Night for Startup RSNs

A trio of regional sports networks will make their debuts on Oct. 1, still seeking carriage that extends beyond their cable owners’ footprint.

Comcast SportsNet Houston will be the first RSN to launch since Comcast took control of NBCUniversal.

And a pair of Los Angeles Lakers-centric services, Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Time Warner Cable Deportes, the nation’s initial Spanish-language RSN, are the first entries to bow under the auspices of Time Warner Cable Sports.

Both Comcast’s and Time Warner cables’ networks, of course, come with distribution on their big-cable-company parents. Neither has a deal with DirecTV, but the top satellite-TV firm indicated it wants to collaborate at the right price in both markets.

CSN Houston president and general manager Matthew Hutchings said the RSN has signed deals with Houston-area providers Coastal Link Communications and En-Touch.

He told Multichannel News that CSN — owned by the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets, Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros and NBC Sports Group — also is in the contract stage with three other local distributors. Comcast has roughly a 50% share of the MVPD market in the nation’s 10th-largest DMA, and its five-state trading area covers Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and the southeast corner of New Mexico.

Fox Sports Houston, the previous home of Astros and Rockets games, has an estimated monthly license fee of $2.50 per subscriber in Houston. CSN Houston officials would not disclose its rate card.

Hutchings said the RSN is in “good conversations with everybody. We’re in active negotiations.” He said more than 1,000 consumer have voiced their interest weekly on

In Los Angeles, Mark Shuken, senior vice president and general manager of TWC Sports Regional Networks, late last week said NBCU was in “extremely active negotiations with all providers. We hope to launch with other distributors quickly.”

Time Warner Cable is the largest distributor in the area with more than 2 million subscribers in a 6-million home territory that reaches north to Fresno, south to the Mexican border, east to Palm Springs and Las Vegas, and west to Hawaii.

A spokesman for Cox, which has a major presence in Orange County, Calif., and the Las Vegas DMA, said: "We understand that the Lakers are popular sports programming, but that programming comes at an extremely high price. Our goal is to provide Cox customers with the best TV experience at the most reasonable price."

Sources report TWC Sports is seeking a monthly subscriber license fee of $3.95 for the two channels.

TWC acquired the Lakers games, previously on Fox Sports West and KCAL-TV, for at least $3 billion over a 20-year period, in February 2011. It has also rights to Major League Soccer’s Galaxy, whose games will kick off this month on the RSNs, and the WNBA’s Sparks, whose post-season run could end up on the services.

With the channels operational, they will serve as calling cards to ramp up consumer and carriage interest as the three services also exhibit preseason NBA games.

The Comcast and TWC RSNs still have a month to go before the on-air dress rehearsal ends and the NBA’s regular-season telecasts begin, on Halloween, with the Rockets vs. the Detroit Pistons and the Lakers vs. the Portland Trail Blazers, respectively.

Commenting on the new TWC networks, DirecTV said: “The Lakers are important to L.A. fans who can rest assured DirecTV is very engaged with Time Warner Cable on how best to make the new TWC SportsNet available in all our local customers’ homes. Time Warner Cable and DirecTV are the two largest TV providers serving Los Angeles, and as such both share a responsibility to ensure that both sports fans and non-sports fans alike avoid any extraordinary increases to their families’ monthly bills. We plan to carry TWC SportsNet in a way that is affordable for everyone.”

As for the Houston network, DirecTV said: “We continue to work with both the Rockets and Astros who own CSN Houston to make it available to our customers for the 2012-13 NBA and upcoming 2013 MLB season[s] next spring. DirecTV strives to provide all of our customers an unparalleled TV experience at the most reasonable value, and while the costs of sports networks like this one continue to rise, we remain committed to servicing fans and non-fans alike.”