Right now, many Astros and Rockets fans are extremely upset that Comcast SportsNet Houston is not yet available in their area. The new regional sports network that now has exclusive broadcast rights for both teams has yet to establish a working agreement with several of the satellite and cable providers in the region.
Fans are frustrated and looking for answers. I recently reached out to Rich Bocchini, Communications Manager for CSN Houston, and he was kind enough to grant an interview.
CTH: How aggressively is Comcast working to negotiate contracts with carriers such as A.T. & T. U-verse, Dish Network, and DirecTV in areas where Astros games are blacked out over the internet and MLB’s Extra Innings package?
R B: Hi Greg, thanks for giving me the chance to answer some questions. We are in active negotiations with every provider. What that means is that we are having talks with and have offered the network to every TV provider within the footprint of the network.
I want to note that Comcast SportsNet and Comcast Cable are two separate business units, under two different roofs, that operate independently of each other. Comcast is in the name and is the parent company of NBC Sports, but we handle the operations and negotiations of the network. NBC Sports has a minority ownership stake in the network, while the Astros and Rockets are the majority owners.
CTH: Since many of these carriers have little to gain by paying Comcast for their programming, why would they choose to do so?
R B: The carriers have a lot to gain by adding Comcast SportsNet Houston. Fans have been very vocal about wanting to be able to watch Astros and Rockets games. The passion that fans are voicing is encouraging, appreciated, and to be honest, the reason why the network was started in the first place.
Those who have the network have been impressed with not only our game coverage, but our other programming as well. We do live regional sports news three times a day. We do an hour-long talk show each day with a variety of guests. Our high school and college football games have been popular.
We have had more than 15,000 fans sign our petition at www.iwantcsnhouston.com and those signatures get sent directly to each provider. The list grows each day and every fan counts, so we’re asking anyone who wants to see the games continue to spread the word. If the providers see there is demand from their customers for a network, they have an incentive to add it.
CTH: Some fans are under the impression that the Astros have already made their money from Comcast and don’t care if we get to see the games. Is that true?
R B: Not at all. The network would not exist if not for the desire of both the Astros and Rockets to provide a level of coverage for the teams that has lacked in recent years. It would be counterproductive on a number of levels for fans to not be able to easily watch the games. Right now we are on Comcast Cable systems as well as Phonoscope, En Touch, Consolidated, and Coastal Link. Those are smaller providers in the Houston area. but they cover a substantial number of customers.
We are not advocating or asking anyone to switch TV providers. We want the network to be available on every TV provider. Our goal is full distribution within the footprint of the network which is Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arkansas. I know that doesn’t mean much right now to someone who wants to watch Rockets games and can’t, but negotiations are ongoing.
CTH: Can we expect to see CSN Houston broadcast in areas such as Austin and San Antonio by Opening Day of the baseball season?
R B: We’ve only been on the air since Oct. 1, and many providers don’t negotiate distribution deals until a network goes live. So there has really been a small window of time to get these deals done. We want to be fully distributed and are working towards that goal. It’s in everyone’s best interest to get deals done as quickly as possible. That said, it is a business and sometimes negotiations take longer than anyone wants. We are seeking terms that are agreeable for everyone; ourselves, the providers, and especially the fans so they don’t have to pay more to watch the games. We know that fans are frustrated and just want to see the games. They want deals to get done no matter what. That’s what we are working towards.
We’d like to thank Rich Bocchini for getting us up to date and helping us better understand the issue at hand. As is the case with any new business endeavor, some early struggles are not uncommon. The network will continue to press forward in an effort to reach as many fans as they can. Remember, you can help advance the cause by requesting the network by visiting the iwantcsnhouston.com website.