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Updated: CSN Bay Area Prepping HD Studio In San Francisco

Comcast SportsNet Bay Area plans to present four hours of original programming nightly to coincide with the start of the 2009 Major League Baseball season.

The programming will emanate from a new HD studio in San Francisco, where the service will hire 100 employees.

“There will be four hours of news, debate and analysis,” said Comcast SportsNet spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick. “There are five local pro baseball [Oakland A’s, San Francisco Giants], basketball [Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings] and hockey [San Jose Sharks] teams in the area, plus the NFL [Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers], Cal [University of California at Berkeley] and Stanford [University]. There’s certainly plenty to talk about.”

One of the topics will likely be the RSN’s decision to move the A’s games to sister service Comcast SportsNet California. That and the possibility of sending NHL Sharks games to that regional are key issues in a license-fee dispute the CSN Bay Area is engaged in with DirecTV.

Derek Chang, executive vice president of content strategies at DirecTV, claims CSN Bay Area is seeking a 40% increase in license fee, even though the RSN will show 30% fewer pro telecasts. Coupled with the 25% rate increase Comcast SportsNet New England is seeking has prompted the DBS leader to seek “baseball-style” arbitration as redress, under a provision tied to Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s purchase of Adelphia Communications in 2006. Neither party would specify the RSNs’ current license fees.

Fitzpatrick said CSN Bay Area runs into plenty of scheduling conflicts with its coverage of A’s and Giants games, as well as with the Sharks and Warriors action. Moving the A’s to CSN California, he said, will ultimately result in a significant jump in the number of the club’s games being televised -- Comcast SportsNet California could also pick up contests that have aired on a local station.

Additionally, both the A’s and Giants’ game coverage would be supplemented by an attendant rise in ancillary-team programming, according to Comcast SportsNet officials.

As part of a long-term rights renewal signed late in 2007, the Giants gained an ownership stake in CSN Bay Area.
As for the Sharks, Comcast SportsNet, according to Fitzpatrick, is currently in discussions with the team about shifting its contests to CSN California, whose principal attraction is the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Should an accord be reached, the Sharks wouldn’t begin skating on the CSN California until the 2009-2010 NHL campaign.

CSN California is available to subscribers in the Bay Area, and moves would be made to position it on a comparable level of service, according to network officials. Comcast is the predominant cable provider in the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose DMA.

As to the arbitration issue, Fitzpatrick said Comcast SportsNet prefers to continue negotiations for fair market value, but the programmer is confident its position would prevail in front of a third-party.

DirecTV notified Comcast on Jan 7 of its intent to go to arbitration over the matter. The DBS giant is plying the Federal Communications Commission’s arbitration remedy that was adopted as a condition for approval of Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s purchase of Adelphia back in July 2006. The FCC instituted this provision as means to address anticompetitive effects of the acquisition whereby Comcast could enhance its market power via its ability to raise the price of “must have” regional sports network programming or withhold the fare from its rivals. The FCC also imposed an arbitration requirement to prevent Comcast from using market power to harm consumers in this way.    

DirecTV parent Liberty Media owns a trio of RSNs -- FS Northwest, FS Pittsburgh and FS Rocky Mountain

-- as part of the swap of its 16.3% stake in News Corp. for a 41% interest in the top U.S. satellite provider that was completed in March 2008.