CSN Houston Freeview Nets Three Small Providers

Mid-Coast Cablevision, Texas Mid-Gulf Cablevision, Bay City Cablevision Will Air Preview through May

CSN Houston’s free preview offer has attracted three takers thus far, but not any of the major providers in its territory.

Mid-Coast Cablevision, Texas Mid-Gulf Cablevision and Bay City Cablevision will carry the regional sports network, a joint venture of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, MLB’s Houston Astros and Comcast’s NBC Sports Group, during its just announced freeview period that extends through May 31. However, AT&T U-verse appears unlikely to pick up the free preview.

Officials said the network will be sending equipment to the three distributors -- all of which are in its Zone 1, within the Houston DMA -- on Friday. According to the RSN, that will give the providers enough time for their subscribers, about 10,000 combined, to watch the third game of the NBA Houston Rockets’ playoff series versus the Oklahoma City on Saturday.

The preview, which the network says is unprecedented in length for an RSN, will enable subscribers to watch the network in the high-definition format for a 37-day span. During that time, CSN Houston will not only showcase Rockets playoff action versus the Thunder, but Astros games in its rookie season in the American League versus the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Lone Star State rival Texas Rangers and key matches from Major League Soccer runner-up Houston Dynamo. News and original series around the clubs, among other programming, will also be available.

“It’s a good sign. The distributors obviously see the value for their customers,” said an RSN spokesman. “Our distribution team will be working with them throughout the period to get them to join at rates and terms.”

CSN Houston has essentially been locked in distribution limbo -- it has yet to ink pacts with DirecTV, Dish, Suddenlink and AT&T U-verse -- 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. All told, CSN Houston has about 40% coverage in Houston, the nation’s 10th largest DMA with 2.2 million TV homes.

At press time it was unclear how many, if any, of the major providers plan to pick up the preview. DirecTV said it was reviewing the offer.

For its part, AT&T U-verse said the freeview doesn't address its wont to offer the RSN on an a la carte basis:  "As we've said before, we'd like to make the channel available to our customers on an a la carte basis, so the proposed cost is not unfairly passed to all of our customers across Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. In fact, we're happy to offer the free preview if we can reach a fair deal so that customers can continue to watch the channel on an a la carte basis immediately after the preview. The truth is, if CSN Houston felt strongly about their fans seeing these games, they could stream CSN Houston online during the free preview or offer us the option to make the channel available on an a la carte basis for fans who want to watch. But unfortunately, CSN Houston isn't offering either of those options."

CSN Houston said it would post the release about the freeview on the IWantCSNHouston area of its Web site. The RSN also plans to mention the offer on its air, and run ads in local newspapers across the region over the next few days. It will also tap such social media vehicles as FaceBook and Twitter to make consumers aware that the free trial has been offered to their providers.

Sources indicate that the RSN has been seeking a monthly subscriber fee of $3.40.