DirecTV Tells CSN Houston Where to Stick Its Teams

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DirecTV wants nothing to do with CSN Houston or the teams that broadcast games on that network. AT&T is doing fine without the network. So are the rest of the cable/satellite providers in the five-state CSN Houston market.

This is not news. The fact that most of the state of Texas does not have access to CSN Houston, the majority-owned Astros regional sports network, is evidence that the cable/satellite companies don't give a damn. But what is news is a DirecTV exec going on the record with the company's opinion of the network.

"Bankruptcy has complicated the process for the team and Comcast, but DirecTV remains willing and open to constructive conversation," Dan York, in charge of strategy, acquisitions and development for DirecTV, told the Houston Chronicle's David Barron earlier this week. "I certainly would like to bring the Rockets and Astros back to DirecTV, but it has to be at a price that is fair for all of our customers, whether they are fans of the teams or not."

Barron's story further clarifies the hurdles the network must clear for 100 percent carriage. The price point must change. The network must emerge from bankruptcy and stabilize. There must be a realistic understanding of the network's reach with the need for ownership to realize that the folks in Dallas may not want to pay for an Astros network, and that the folks in San Antonio and Austin might not be too thrilled to be paying for two separate RSNs showing different teams in the same league and same division.

"(CSN Houston) has and remains significantly overpriced compared to what customers were paying for the same games previously and the pricing demands for such large footprints, including demanding payment for customers who will never watch a Rockets or Astros games a thousand miles from the stadium," York said.

Then there's the important thing: The network has to offer up a better product. That product being the Astros -- due to NBA restrictions, the  Rockets are not available to most of the CSN Houston five-state map. And until the Astros product is much better, the network can forget about getting rates that might be equivalent to what other teams are getting.

DirecTV has also refused to pick up the new Los Angeles Dodgers RSN, leaving most of that market without access to the Dodgers, so this isn't just some plot against Houstonians. It can be argued that the CSN Houston parties vastly overrated the worth of the network and its properties -- hence Jim Crane's fraud suit against Comcast and Drayton McLane -- and that, maybe, if the network had started up a year or two earlier, it'd have full clearance. But it now increasingly looks as if this network will only ever get carriage with heavily slashed prices that will come about only as part of the bankruptcy, which the Astros are still fighting.

AT&T also weighed in, and said the value is not there for it to be added to U-verse. And SuddenLink cable said it had not been contacted by CSN Houston since the start of bankruptcy proceedings. It further clarified that it was open to adding the network "to our customers that want it," which kind of sounds like it would go on a sports tier and not as part of a basic customer bundle.

Further complicating matters is the proposed $50 billion purchase of DirecTV by AT&T. It's hard to imagine either of these companies adding the network to its lineup while waiting for this deal to be approved by the companies and then waiting for government approval. Especially if either company were to pay the original asking price (or close to it) for CSN Houston carriage. And since neither provider has suffered significant customer loss due to a lack of Rockets/Astros programming, there is just no urgency to add the network.

"What we've seen in Houston is unfortunately what happens when content is overpriced to the market," York said. "Someone loses, and in this case it includes the teams."

The teams are losing. Not only are the Rockets and Astros losing money on the network they own, but neither party is receiving the fees it should be getting from the network for their media rights. And both further lose because of lack of interest in teams that people can't watch.

Meanwhile, the CSN Houston carriage debacle continues. The parties await Judge Hughes's ruling on the Astros' appeal of the bankruptcy decision. Judge Isgur continues rulings keeping the network alive, and the parties are still arguing over just which court should be hearing Crane's fraud lawsuit. Most of the city/state/country still can't watch the games, though, truthfully, nobody really seems to give a damn or else DirecTV would be finding some way to make the numbers work.

So who knows when it'll all end. Maybe tomorrow (hah). Maybe next week or next month or next year. Maybe never.

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