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Empty Seats on Opening Night for Startup RSNs

7/22/2014 9:26 PM Eastern

A trio of regional sports networks will make their debuts on Monday (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 Cable’s networks, of course, come with distribution via their big-cable-company parents. Neither, at press time, had 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 website IwantCSNHouston.com.

In Los Angeles, Mark Shuken, senior vice president and general manager of TWC Sports Regional Networks, late last week said his company 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 RSNs’ area, with more than 2 million subscribers in a 6 millionhome territory that reaches north to Fresno, Calif.; south to the Mexican border; east to Palm Springs, Calif., and Las Vegas; and west to Hawaii.

A spokesman for Cox Communications, 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.

September