Root Sports Southwest to Rise from CSN Houston

New RSN Set For Nov. 17 Tipoff Leading into Rockets' Game Coverage
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Following 14 months of chapter 11 wrangling, CSN Houston is set to fade to black on Sunday, Nov. 16 after coverage of the NBA game between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City.

In its place is a new regional sports network owned by AT&T and DirecTV, which will operate the service under its Root Sports banner. Expected to bear the sub moniker of Houston, the service evidently will sport the Southwest name, according to a website,http://rssouthwest.itmwpb.com/, first pointed out by the Houston Chronicle’s David Barron on his twitter feed.

DirecTV, citing legal constraints, has declined to comment about programming and further distribution plans for the service throughout the bankruptcy court proceedings.

The RSN, which will also televise Houston Astros MLB contests, has carriage with the telco and DBS providers, which are awaiting federal approval on their merger, and Comcast, a combo that will give it 80% coverage in the Houston DMA. That’s far greater penetration than CSN Houston, which only managed to gain carriage deals with Comcast and a handful of small providers in the Houston DMA, ever managed. That wasn’t nearly enough to sustain the service, which tipped in October 2012 and whose territory extends in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and parts of New Mexico. With a reported $4 per month per subscriber ask within its central area, and 70 cents elsewhere, CSN never collected enough affiliate revenue to pay the clubs their rights fees and meet its other obligations.

A look at Root Sports Southwest’s programming grid on the website shows a couple of early-morning entries --  Planet X Square and My Life John Lucas – on Sunday, Nov. 16.

Its first full day apparently comes Monday, Nov. 17 at 6 a.m. (CT), beginning with Heartland Poker Tour: Season 10, followed by four hours of paid programming.  The Rich Eisen Show and The Dan Patrick Show, both staples of DirecTV’s Audience Network and other outlets, will run for three hours apiece, before more poker fare bridges the gap until the Rockets pregame show at 6:30 p.m., the team’s contest against the Memphis Grizzlies at 7 p.m. and the post-game show at 9:30 p.m. 

Given NBA TV territorial restrictions, the RSN evidently will present an alternate feed of encore of the college football game between Texas Southern and Jackson State from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., with Poker Night in America subbing for the post-game show in restricted areas.

According to the website’s listing of teams, Root Sports Southwest will be home to “at least 67 Rockets games, excluding the 2014-15 season,” plus the pre- and post-game shows, and auxiliary fare.  At least 135 Astros games and related programming also are on tap.

From the college ranks, the listing outlines Big Sky and Southern Conference football, plus Mountain West and Conference USA pigskin and hoops action. Rice basketball appears to be in the mix, flanked by a coaching show, as well as a University of Houston coach’s basketball program.

Eisen and Patrick’s programs are also included on the lineup.

Although 96 of the 141 CSN Houston employees will lose their gigs in the change, the talent subheading under the "about us" tab on the site indicates that Bill Worrell, Matt Bullard and Clyde Drexler will still call Rockets games, with Calvin Murphy remaining a part of the club’s studio shows. Bill Brown, Alan Ashby, Geoff Blum and Art Howe (studio) evidently will call the 2015 Astros season.

Under the reorganization plan, the Astros (46%), Rockets (31%) and Comcast (23%) have lost their network equity positons, and the teams agreed to forego immediate payment of more than $100 million in unpaid rights fees. DirecTV and AT&T are picking up the RSN for $5,000.

For its part, Comcast, through a financial appeal, is still trying to recoup more of the $100 million secured loan that was earmarked for CSN Houston's start-up costs, including a studio build-out and the teams' rights fees. The bankruptcy court ruled it could only receive $26 million of that total. 

Other legal action continues as the Astros have filed suit against former team owner Drayton McLane and Comcast and the Houston Chronicle reports that the Rockets may also sue Comcast.

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