Update: John Royal, my colleague here at the Press who has covered the CSN story as well, pointed out to me via e-mail that one part of my story is incorrect. In fact, the Rockets can negotiate deals with cable providers and unanimous approval is not required. Only the judge must approve any deals put in place by the Rockets giving them much wider leeway in their negotiations with cable providers.
The Rockets, Astros and CSN Houston met in federal court this morning for yet another progress report on the Astros attempts to negotiate carriage deals with cable providers. CSN Houston is currently only available on Comcast and a handful of small cable system providers. They have as yet been unable to negotiate deals with major players like U-Verse, DirecTV, Dish Network, Phonoscope and others. As a result, only about 40 percent of the Houston area can watch Rockets and Astros games on TV.
This morning, according to David Barron of the Houston Chronicle via Twitter, the Astros agreed to turn over negotiations of carriage deals to the Rockets. Because the Astros filed a fraud suit against CSN and former Astros owner Drayton McLane after the last hearing a few weeks ago and because CSN was concerned this would interfere with their ability to fairly negotiate deals, the Astros passed the reins to the Rockets.
Additionally, the Rockets have a formal bid to buy the CSN Houston network. The bid has not been submitted to the court and no details were immediately available.
The Astros claim they have made progress with two major players, though they declined to say who they were. Even with negotiations handed over to the Rockets, it is doubtful anything will be resolved before the next progress hearing set for January 7. All four parties -- the Rockets, the Astros and two representatives from Comcast/CSN -- must agree unanimously to any deals and it is doubtful Astros owner Jim Crane will alter his stance on what the Rockets and other members of CSN might consider a good deal.
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Still, this does represent progress. Not only are the Rockets, one of the parties clearly interested in bringing this impasse to an end, now in charge of negotiations, but they have a bid to buy the network, which would certainly change things. For now, the status quo remains in force and fans should not expect any changes before the January 7 hearing.
But, with these new wrinkles, it does appear things are heating up and perhaps in the right direction.
Astros full statement:
We have been engaged in negotiations with two major players and holding weekly meetings with the Rockets and Comcast to keep them appraised of the discussions. Comcast recently expressed concern with the Astros negotiating for the network while our civil suit is ongoing. Given the status of the negotiations with the two major players, we would like for the Rockets to continue these discussions. We do not want there to be any question as to whether our lawsuit against Comcast has any bearing on the results of the negotiations with the other carriers. We are confident in what we have done to this point and we have handled this exactly as Judge Isgur has requested and in the best interest of the network. Our interests are aligned with the Rockets in that we both want our fans to view our games. As we have done throughout this entire process, we will both continue to work tirelessly toward getting the games on TV for all of our fans.