CSTV, Comcast Climb The mtn.

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CSTV Networks' upstart regional The mtn. – MountainWest Sports Network may get to play on a national TV sports field.

Comcast, which has taken a 50% stake in the service, will handle distribution efforts for the "super-regional" network, which will offer college football and other live sports events from such conference schools as Air Force Academy, Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.

As part of a deal reached Wednesday between the MSO and the CBS-owned college sports-based programmer, Comcast will initially launch the service Sept. 1 to expanded-basic subscribers in its Salt Lake City system and to digital-cable customers in its Denver and Colorado Springs, Colo., and Albuquerque, N.M. systems.

Comcast, though, will talk with cable operators outside of the nine-member conference's seven-state footprint in an effort to gain national carriage for the service, according to CSTV CEO Brian Bedol.

Select MountainWest Conference events will also appear on Comcast-owned sports network OLN, which will be renamed Versus in September, as well as through Comcast's video-on-demand platform. Content will also be available via broadband via CSTV.com (www.cstv.com).

Bedol said the Comcast deal was huge for the fledgling network, which, prior to the agreement, had not secured any significant cable carriage.

"It certainly answers a lot of the questions related to distribution," he added. "From the beginning, we felt that this service -- which will allow fans to follow their teams regardless of where they live -- was the next wave in really taking advantage of the technological advances.”

Bedol said Fox Sports' announcement earlier this month that it will launch a Big Ten Conference-based national sports network in fall 2007 played no role in its deal with Comcast.

He added that CSTV doesn't have any immediate plans to launch similar conference stand-alone services. Similar to its MountainWest agreement, CSTV's Conference USA agreement inked last year also encompasses national television, VOD, Internet, broadband and wireless rights for football, basketball, baseball, cross-country, golf, soccer, tennis, track and field, diving, swimming and volleyball games.

"I think you will see us continue to try to lead the way in terms of how more fans get more access to more games," Bedol said, "but whether that will lead to more networks or other forms of distribution is too early to talk about."

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