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CSN Houston Presents Freeview as Latest Carriage Gambit

Preview Extends through May as RSN Looks to Score Deals with DirecTV, Dish, AT&T, Suddenlink, Other Providers 4/25/2013 8:28 AM Eastern

CSN Houston, hoping to spur affiliate agreements and ultimately subscribers gains, is proffering an extended free preview of the service through the end of May.

The freeview, extending  from April 25 through May 31, has been offered free of charge to all providers within the regional sports network’s five-state TV territory. It is the latest salvo by CSN Houston, a joint venture of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, MLB’s Houston Astros and Comcast’s NBC Sports Group, aimed at jump-starting the stalled carriage situation that has limited its distribution roster to Comcast and five smaller distributors in Texas.

The preview, which the network says is unprecedented in length for an RSN, and would enable subscribers to watch the network in the high-definition format for a 37-day span. During that time, CSN Houston will showcase Rockets playoff action versus the Oklahoma City Thunder; Astros games during its rookie season in the American League versus the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Lone Star State rival Texas Rangers; key matches from Major League Soccer runner-up Houston Dynamo; and news and original series around the clubs, among other programming.

CSN Houston has been in distribution limbo since the service launched last October. The RSN has carriage on Comcast in parts of Louisiana and Little Rock, Arkansas, as well as Houston, and deals with small providers, Coastal Link, Consolidated Communications, EnTouch, Phonoscope and Telecom Cable in Texas. All told, CSN Houston has about 40% coverage in Houston, the nation’s 10th largest DMA with 2.2 million TV homes.

Officials at CSN Houson said they began informing providers about the freeview plans on April 24 and now has reached out to all prospective distributors in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Mexico.

It was unclear at press time, how many, if any, providers plan to pick up the preview. For its part, DirecTV said it was aware of the offer.

“We understand that fans have been frustrated as we work through our negotiations with providers and have already collected more than 100,000 petitions for our network,” CSN Houston president and general manager Matt Hutchings said. “While those negotiations must continue, our leadership team feels that this next stretch of games for the Rockets, Astros and Dynamo should be made available to the fans. This free trial comes with a sizable loss that our network will take on, but we feel that it is the right thing to do. We are hopeful that our affiliate partners at DirecTV, AT&T, Dish, Suddenlink, Time Warner Cable and others across our region will take us up on this unprecedented offer and make it available to their customers.”

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who has called the carriage situation "intolerable" for Houston sports fans and taxpayers who have helped fund the venues where the pro clubs play, has called for meetings with the major providers. DirecTV, AT&T and Suddenlink have accepted the mayoral invite, but the meeting dates have yet to set.