Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why the CSN Houston Freeview is genius

As you likely already know, CSN Houston has made their network available to all cable providers until May 31. All that has to happen now is for DirecTV, UVerse, and Suddenlink to flip the switch today, and you'll be watching the Astros play at Fenway for the first time since 2003.

But that's beside the point, because it's a genius marketing move. All along the argument from the cable/satellite providers has been that the proposed cost of CSN Houston is too high. Now the cost is not an issue. If DirecTV/UVerse/Suddenlink don't take advantage of the free preview, then it's mainly because they just don't want to do it.

Back on April 11, a spokesman for AT&T said:
We’d love to make the channel available to our customers, but the proposed cost is not fair to pass to all of our customers across Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, especially based upon our subscribers’ historical lack of viewership of Rockets and Astros games.

Basically what they said was:

As we noted at the time, it's uncomfortable to be told that you're the reason you can't watch the Astros. But with the preview's duration, the Astros will play the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, and Rangers (there are other teams in there), but it's a perfect time in the season to offer this deal - viewers will see the premier teams in the AL, and the Astros. In one swift move, CSN Houston has eliminated a reason for cable providers not to carry the network at a time in the season in which there is likely the most interest.

All you have to do is look back at Inter-League series that featured the Yankees and Red Sox. Back in 2011 the Astros hosted the Red Sox for three games and, Opening Day notwithstanding, those were the three largest crowds at Minute Maid Park in 2011. A June 2008 series hosting the Yankees (over a weekend) brought three of the five largest crowds to Minute Maid Park. There is demand there, and with the Astros on the road against Boston and New York, people in Houston will watch these games. They might not be watching them because they're Astros fans, but they still count as eyes.

If Big Cable doesn't pick up the Freeview, then it shows that there is some pushback by Big Cable to the RSNs. DirecTV is already on the record as PISSED about the climbing values of television deals to teams. We've seen what has happened in San Diego and Portland about Big Cable not picking up networks similar to CSN Houston.I've always thought this stalemate is less about CSN Houston and more about the climate of Regional Sports Network deals.

That said, If the Freeview works as CSN Houston is hoping it will work, enough people watch (and "enough" is an inexact number), and they still can't work a deal with Big Cable by May 31 then it clearly renders Big Cable's arguments moot. At that point Big Cable would just be refusing to carry another network because they have a larger agenda.

Now, if fans still don't watch then it just doesn't matter, anyway. But it's at least forcing the argument/conversation forward.