Like Monty Python's Black Knight, CSN Houston's Not Dead Yet
Walking out from a concert at the House of Blues on Monday night, I couldn't help but notice that the lights were still burning brightly inside the offices and studios of CSN Houston. Earlier that day, a bankruptcy judge had heard evidence regarding the financial worth of the troubled network so he can decide whether to approve the plan that will ultimately kill it. But the network lived through the night. As of now, after the judge heard evidence throughout the week, the network lives on until at least October 21.
The CSN Houston saga is a long, drawn-out affair that most Houston sports fans wish would've ended long, long ago. Most of us living in the Houston area haven't been able to watch two seasons of the Astros on TV. We've also missed two seasons of the Rockets, and guess what, the NBA regular season is fast approaching. There's a plan in place to replace the network with Root Sports Houston that would make the Astros and Rockets available on DirecTV and U-Verse as well as on Comcast. But until that plan's approved by the bankruptcy judge, the broadcast rights to both teams remain with CSN Houston.
Houston sports fans care not about legal battles. They don't care about how much of its $100 million secured loan made to the network that Comcast should receive in bankruptcy, or the value of Comcast's contract to air the network. They don't care about whether the Rockets or Astros are ever actually paid the rights fees they've not received since the middle of 2013. They don't care about whether AT&T or DirecTV are paying any money to purchase the network, or whether anybody will be on the hook for damages. The fans care about one thing: seeing the damn games on television sometime in the foreseeable future.
And the answer to the foreseeable future question is: who the hell really knows. The bankruptcy judge ruled in favor of the Rockets and Astros earlier this week. The ruling essentially said that Comcast's affiliation agreement to carry CSN Houston was rendered worthless when Comcast forced the network into bankruptcy. Comcast was attempting to use this affiliation agreement as collateral for the $100 million secured loan it made to the network, and with that ruling, Comcast's attempt to get that $100 million back, one of the main reasons why it's objecting to the bankruptcy plan, was blocked.
The judge then set a hearing date for October 21 as to whether officially approve the bankruptcy plan over Comcast's objection. If the plan's approved, it's officially goodbye CSN Houston and hello Root Sports Houston, just in time for the Rockets regular season to tip off. But an appeal of that ruling could possibly put everything on hold. In the interim, CSN Houston keeps broadcasting. Rockets preseason games still dot its schedule as do the pre and postgame shows. It's still air Dynamo games, and college football games. Most of it's local programming is still intact and reporters and camera crews still appear and report on games and press conferences. Once the plan is approved most of these people, and their co-workers in the tape rooms and edit bays and work cubicles will be out-of-work, so they're all living a life of limbo, doing the best work they can under some of the worst circumstances imaginable.
There will be a ruling at some point. The judge will approve or disapprove the bankruptcy plan. The appeals will end. Contracts will be voided; other contracts will be signed. Entities will be paid some of what they're owed. Switches will be flipped and just like that, Rockets and Astros games, not seen by a majority of Houstonians since October of 2012, will be available once again. Familiar faces -- like Bill Worrell, Matt Bullard, Clyde Drexler, and Bill Brown -- that Astros and Rockets fans had grown close to will reappear in living rooms across town.
There's still some ongoing litigation over the network that needs to be handled, including a fraud lawsuit filed by Jim Crane against Drayton McLane and Comcast. And maybe then we'll learn who's really to blame for the failure of CSN Houston. But that litigation will not impact the fact that CSN Houston's gone and Root Sports Houston is broadcasting the Astros and Rockets.
So if you go to the House of Blues for a concert sometime between now and October 2, look across to the other side of the complex at the offices of CSN Houston. The lights are still on, the network's still broadcasting. There are still people inside working, doing their jobs. CSN Houston may be on life support and barely hanging to life, but it's not dead. Not yet anyway.