CSN Houston Looks for 45-Day Freeview Assist

Embattled RSN Makes 24 NBA Rockets Games Available to Distributors

Comcast SportsNet Houston is offering a 45-day freeview that would give subscribers to cable, satellite and telco providers in its TV territory access to two-dozen Houston Rockets games.

The free trial is being offered to DirecTV, Dish, Time Warner Cable and AT&T U-verse, among others, within the regional sports network’s five-state area of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico through Dec. 15. Over that time period, the Rockets, now featuring Dwight Howard, will play 24 games, with high-definition telecasts showcasing the club against such squads as the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks.

The gambit marks the second extended free review the embattled RSN has offered --  last April and May it made Rockets’ playoff games, as well as Astros contests and Houston Dynamo soccer matches available over a 37-day span -- and comes during the midst of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.    

After two days of hearings, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Marvin Isgur on Oct. 29 issued a three-page order authorizing the Astros to negotiate with third parties on a new business plan through Dec. 12. As such, it enables the Astros to “investigate and negotiate the terms of carriage agreements, broadcast agreements, management agreements, lease agreements, equipment agreements, purchase and sale agreements and debt and equity investments and other matters pertaining to the formulation of a business plan.”

Launched on Oct. 1, 2012, CSN Houston – owned by the Astros (46%), the Rockets (32%) and Comcast/NBCUniversal (22%) – has only managed to secure carriage deals with Comcast and a handful of smaller providers in the Houston DMA.

With the aforementioned large providers, as well as Verizon FiOS and Suddenlink, all sitting on the distribution sidelines, the RSN has not collected sufficient monthly subscriber revenue to pay the Astros an Rockets their rights fees. On Sept. 27, four Comcast affiliates – one of which loaned $100 million to the network for start-up costs and the building of a studio -- petitioned for Chapter 11 protection.

With unanimity of vote required on key operating decisions – the teams have one apiece, while Comcast/NBCU has a pair – the RSN has been deadlocked in its negotiating attempts to gain more homes,and acquire additional funding.