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Suddenlink Fires Back in CSN Houston Carriage Contretemps

MSO's McCaskill Says Price Adjustment Needed for Basic-Cable Positioning; GM Hutchings: RSN Deserves Such Placement 4/19/2013 10:38 AM Eastern

Updated: April 19 at 5 p.m.

After the head of Comcast SportsNet Houston wrote a letter to Suddenlink, the MSO’s programming chief promulgated the company’s position in carriage negotiations in a missive of her own.

Suddenlink senior vice president and chief programming officer Patty McCaskill on April 19 responded to CSN Houston president and general manager Matt Hutchings’ letter dated two days prior by writing that in “our last offer, we agreed upon a price relevant to carriage on a digital sports tier.” McCaskill said that if CSN Houston were seeking expanded basic coverage, then “the price will be needed to be adjusted accordingly.”

Hutchings' April 17 letter, posted on the IwantCSNHouston area on the RSN's website, stated that he was “pleased” that the operator accepted the price. However, he went on to say CSN Houston wants expanded-basic positioning, the same placement the operator affords FS Southwest in Houston and to other RSNs around the nation.

In her letter, McCaskill said that Suddenlink considered CSN Houston, with its focus on professional sports teams in that market, to be a local sports network, versus a service like FS Southwest, which covers multiple pro and college teams "across a multiple state geography."

On Friday afternoon, Hutchings responded to McCaskill's letter thusly: "Suddenlink maintains that Dallas’ Fox Sports Southwest and virtually every other RSN in the country—except CSN Houston— deserves distribution across their territory on an expanded basic tier.  The fact that they feel Astros and Rockets fans are not worthy of the same treatment does not make any sense.  Pure and simple, Suddenlink just doesn’t want to give the fans the product, and that’s a shame considering that most of their customers recently burdened an increase in their monthly bills."

The Suddenlink correspondence invited Hutchings to submit a carriage counterproposal “in an effort to find common ground.” McCaskill wrote that if CSN Houston wants to be on expanded basic, “we would gladly consider a substantially lower price for carriage on a substantially larger (more widely distributed) tier. This point is critical.”

She concluded by writing that “we have an obligation to be responsive to our customers and are thus fucosed on finding a way to make CSN Houston available to those in the Houston area who want it, without forcing the cost on others," and that "we look forward to a counteroffer that modifies your last offer."

The network, a joint venture of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, MLB’s Houston Astros and Comcast’s NBC Sports Group, has distribution on Comcast in parts of Louisiana and Little Rock, Arkansas, as well as Houston. Combined with deals with small providers, Coastal Link, Consolidated Communications, EnTouch and Phonoscope, CSN Houston has about 40% coverage in Houston, the nation’s 10th largest DMA with 2.2 million TV homes. 

In addition to Suddenlink, Comcast CSN has yet to conclude distribution deals with DirecTV, Dish Network and AT&T U-verse.

Sources indicate that CSN Houston has been asking for a monthly subscriber license fee of $3.40.

The Rockets are preparing for their first NBA playoff series in four years as they will meet the Oklahoma City Thunder, with CSN Houston airing game action and expansive support program around James Harden, Jeremy Lin and crew.

September