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Dear Sports Illustrated: Any Prediction as to When CSN Houston Will Get on Our TVs?

The Houston Astros are on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated. The photo's not a joke; neither is the story. The story goes into the radical rebuild of the club and the magazine makes the bold prediction that the Astros will win the 2017 World Series. And who knows, if the Astros really get lucky, that whole CSN Houston bankruptcy deal might actually be settled by then.

The parties returned to Judge Marvin Isgur's bankruptcy court Monday. The Astros argued to have the fraud suit they filed against Drayton McLane and Comcast returned to state court. McLane and Comcast wanted Isgur to keep the case in the Federal court system. There was no decision made, and the parties, as with most matters, were left hanging, waiting for somebody to come along and bail them all out.

And guess what, they're all returning to Isgur's courtroom next week to discuss the so-called reorganization plan. I'm pretty sure the Astros won't eagerly go along with anything offered up because Judge Lynn Hughes has yet to rule on the Astros' appeal of the order putting the network into bankruptcy. One would think that Hughes would've issued a ruling by now -- the appeal was filed back in March, he's heard arguments and had a couple of mediation sessions so he should be familiar with all the details, but then again, that's the thing about Federal district court judges; they'll slap you down should you miss a deadline, but they move to a clock that's got nothing to do with reality.

The bankruptcy plan won't be the only issue before Isgur next week. There's an entity known as enTouch Systems, Inc. that has requested the relief of the court. enTouch, believe it or not, is a small cable TV provider that was enough of a sucker to sign up to distribute CSN Houston when it hit the air. The company has decided it's not too happy with the deal it was suckered into -- company execs claim to be paying much, much more to distribute the network than Comcast is paying. The contract between the company and CSN Houston also supposedly contains a clause allowing enTouch to bail out of the network should it go into bankruptcy. The company has attempted to exercise this right, but CSN Houston has failed to comply with the contract.

"It's very difficult when a company like Comcast is playing on both sides of the fence and getting a highly discounted rate," J. Findley, president and CEO of enTouch, told the Chronicle. "It's not a level playing field."

 

But eventually this will all get back to the bankruptcy reorganization plan and whether there's even a demand for the network that will allow it to survive. A large amount of the purchase price that Jim Crane paid for the network comes from its perceived value, and that value is based on the network being available to not only a five-state network, but on a basic tier, meaning that all cable/satellite subscribers are paying for the network, even those who would never think of watching a sports channel.

James Moorehead, Dish Network's chief marketing officer, spoke to David Barron of the Chronicle earlier this week, and he made it very clear that it will carry the network only if it can carry it on an à la carte basis -- i.e., the only people who'd pay for the network would be those who actually wanted the network. CSN Houston, and especially the Astros, are very much against the à la carte model because it shrinks the potential number of viewers on any given night, which in turns makes the network less desirable to advertisers.

"We would love to carry (CSN Houston), but we're not doing so because they are asking for exorbitant prices that do not match our value equation," Moorhead said. "Some want it, but the vast majority does not want to pay a price increase for that type of content. "We are constantly in negotiations and would love to carry it, and we are looking for creative solutions to carry the right content. That is why we are proposing, and are willing, to do it à la carte."

That's where things stand with CSN Houston. Optimism toward this network surviving behind a new organizational plan that gets the Astros the value the team desires has to be slight. Cable/satellite providers are balking at the fees. There's no real network demand among the populace. The judge responsible for ruling on the appeal of the bankruptcy order is twiddling his thumbs, and the Rockets and Astros still aren't being paid the money owed under the media rights agreement.

So you should probably go out and buy that Sports Illustrated with the Astros on the cover because that's probably your best chance to actually see any photos of George Springer wearing the uniform of the Houston Astros for the foreseeable future (even if it is the throwback uniform). But it's nice to know that somebody can actually see the Astros play baseball, and that they're optimistic about the team's future.


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