CSN Houston Still Bankrupt, Still Not Coming to a TV Near You

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Presumably the bidder for CSN Houston was made known to Comcast yesterday. Presumably, of course, because nobody will comment. An order was sought yesterday evening seeking to prevent Comcast from divulging any details regarding the potential bidder. The parties are supposed to have a status conference with the bankruptcy judge next week.

It's time for this clown show to end. Either the network lives or the network dies, but this ridiculousness has to end. The network's been in operation for 22 months. That's two seasons for the Rockets and nearly two seasons for the Astros. Two seasons in which a large majority of the teams' fans have been unable to watch the teams play games on television. This is happening because the owners misjudged the market, misjudged price points, misjudged the willingness of the other cable/satellite providers to pay huge carriage fees.

The network was underfunded and given an unworkable management structure. It was forced into bankruptcy by one owner, with another owner fighting every step of the way. There's been a fraud lawsuit filed by one owner against a former owner. It's an ugly mess that nobody deserves to win and in which the ultimate loser will be cable/satellite subscribers whose rates will rise when this whole fiasco comes to an end.

But as ugly as CSN Houston is, it's not the worse RSN mess in the country. The new Dodgers-only RSN is not being carried by U-verse, DirecTV or Dish, leaving it reaching less than 40 percent of the Los Angeles market. Los Angeles-area members of Congress are requesting FCC involvement and trying to force a mediation -- the best Houstonians were able to get was an ineffectual attempt by Mayor Annise Parker to mediate a settlement.

Then there's the whole situation between the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals. An involved, confusing, contentious situation arising out of Bud Selig forcing the Montreal Expos to move to Washington, infringing on the territory of the Baltimore Orioles. Out of this was born a RSN, majority owned by the Orioles, airing the games of both teams. But the Nationals haven't been happy with media rights. Selig forced a mediation, the Orioles didn't like the results and now the Orioles have taken the issue to court despite Selig's wishes to the contrary. None of this helps sports fans in Houston who just want to watch the games. But in the long run, maybe all of this will help out cable/satellite subscribers who are tired of subsidizing channels and networks they'll never watch. The operating model of the RSN depends on all cable/satellite subscribers having to pay for the channel even though it's watched by only a small minority of subscribers. But in a just world, such networks would be offered only to people who want them, much like HBO or Showtime. Teams don't want this because it would cut the amount of money available from media rights fees, which is based on advertising being available to all potential viewers of the network, not just the diehard fans.

That's not going to happen anytime soon. But by next week, it's probable that the identity of CSN Houston's potential bidder will be made known -- unless the attorneys for the network once again request it be kept secret. CSN Houston itself may no longer exist after that point (Fox Sports could fold it back into Fox Sports Southwest, DirectTV could make it part of its ROOTS RSN networks and bring in new personnel and programming, and who knows what U-verse would do if given the chance). But the teams will air on an RSN, and that RSN will be made available to everybody, not just those who want it, and cable bills will be going up a bit.

The Astros and Rockets might be made whole, with the purchaser making sure they receive the media rights fees they've not received over the past two years, but it's doubtful they will command as big fees under the new deal as they were supposed to receive from CSN Houston -- that's what happens when the Astros suck year after year after year after year. Comcast might get back some money, and other creditors might get paid part of what they're owed. Then again, it's entirely conceivable that Comcast, the entity that forced the bankruptcy, will cry foul and attempt to stop the purchaser, at which point the whole waiting game resumes while the bankruptcy judge once again tries to find a way to make the children act like adults.

So the fiasco's almost over. Maybe. Or not. Maybe there'll be an answer next week. Maybe.

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