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I'm Rubber, You're Glue: CSN Houston Fires Back at DirecTV

If you caught my story yesterday on DirecTV's shot at negotiations with CSN Houston (if not, click the link), the television home to the Rockets, Astros and Dynamo, you know it is becoming more and more clear that the fight to get the local teams into more than the current 40 percent of Houston homes is going to get ugly. Today we have new evidence to support that claim in the form of a salvo from CSN back at DirecTV.

Like DirecTV, CSN chose its Web site to take its argument public. On one hand, it seems as though the best way to negotiate would be privately, but on the other, this is the most entertainment 60 percent of Houston sports fans have had in a while, so why not watch?

CSN's latest is on the Q&A section of their IWantCSNHouston.com Web site.

Q. DIRECTV claims to the leader in sports TV, so why are they not carrying CSN Houston?

A. DIRECTV does indeed claim to be the leader in sports TV and carries over 40 regional sports networks (RSNs), regionalized sports networks like the Big Ten Network, and alternate/regional feeds, yet they refuse to carry CSN Houston. In fact, they carry the largest number of sports networks of any TV provider. This makes their refusal to carry CSN Houston puzzling. Their failure to carry CSN Houston devalues the fans of the Houston Rockets, Houston Astros, and Houston Dynamo.

Q. DIRECTV has stated in the press that the RSN business is broken and RSN fees are too high which is why they refuse to carry CSN Houston. Is this true?

A. DIRECTV is in the RSN business themselves and owns three RSNs: ROOT Sports Northwest; ROOT Sports Pittsburgh; and ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain. We do not agree with DIRECTV and think that the RSN business is far from broken. In fact, our research tells us that, based on the characteristics of CSN Houston, the price we are asking for the network is in line with what providers pay for other comparable regional sports networks. That's based on the fact that we have three major league teams in addition to college and high school programming, and daily news and talk shows.

Q. Do AT&T and DIRECTV carry RSNs in all of the top U.S. markets?

A. If you look at two of the largest TV providers, AT&T and DIRECTV, you see that they each carry 1-6 RSNs in each of the top 10 U.S. markets with the exception of Philadelphia (which is not serviced by AT&T) and Houston. This means that AT&T and DIRECTV customers in virtually all of the top U.S. markets have access to their home market teams and professional sports - except for Houston.

It's the last one that resonates most for me. When you look at the top 10 media markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and even Dallas, they are serviced by DirecTV when it comes to their regional sports networks. As one CSN staffer pointed out to me, even a small market like San Diego has a sports network on DirecTV to show Padres games.

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From all the bluster, it appears Houston is simply the dividing line between what has always been -- sports networks on basic cable -- and what DirecTV (and no doubt other major providers) wants -- tiered selections. Television networks clearly do not want to be pushed off to a tier because they know that will cut down on the number of subscribers who will pay to watch them. For providers, it would drive down the cost of these networks and save them money, which is, of course, the bottom line for both.

Cable providers used to provide almost entirely tiered pricing. If you wanted certain channels, you paid for them. Even some local channels were excluded until the federal government imposed "must-carry" rules that were ultimately upheld in court battles all the way to the Supreme Court. But as networks have exploded, basic cable has bloated and most providers now offer several large tier options. Regional sports networks like CSN are fighting to stay on the most basic tier and most have won, until Houston.

CSN claims what it is asking for in terms of money is in line with other markets. There have been rumors that what CSN has asked is substantially higher than Fox Sports Southwest, the former home of the Astros and Rockets, which has caused DirecTV to balk. With opening day rapidly approaching and the Rockets season quickly coming to a close, no end appears in sight, but at least we can watch the powers that be squabble over it in public.

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