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Scott D. Pierce: MWC TV picture muddled further by CSTV changes

Published: Friday, Jan. 4 2008 12:21 a.m. MST

CSTV, the company the Mountain West Conference tied its television future to in 2004, has ceased to exist as anything approaching an independent entity. CBS, which bought the company in November 2005, has announced that it "will integrate the combined businesses" of CSTV "into the operations of CBS Sports."

That is, in all likelihood, a good thing for CSTV. Whether it's a good thing for the MWC remains to be seen.

And the man who founded and ran CSTV — the man at the head of the company when it signed the Mountain West Conference to a long-term contract — will soon be out of the picture. Brian Bedol, who founded CSTV and continued to run it as an independent division within CBS, will aid in the transition but then will become a "senior adviser" to CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves.

(I know Les Moonves. I've interviewed him dozens of times. I have close friends who have worked for him. He doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who's going to spend a lot of time listening to a "senior adviser.")

With Bedol out of the picture, CSTV will be overseen by CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus. Tony Petitti, executive vice president and executive producer of CBS Sports, will oversee the day-to-day operations.

It's too early to say exactly what this will mean to viewers, but insiders expect CSTV to follow the same path as ESPN — to focus more on the big college conferences and less on the small ones.

In the short term, that will be more obvious when it comes to college basketball. Not only does CBS have the rights to the NCAA men's basketball tournament, but the network has agreements with the Big East, Southeastern, Big Ten, Pac-10, ACC and Big 12 conferences to carry some regular season games.

In football, CBS has the broadcast-TV rights to SEC games.

CSTV is currently available in only 20-something million homes, but CBS will make a big push to get it on additional cable systems. As distribution grows, the network may go after the football and basketball rights for BCS conferences.

Again, good for CSTV, but what about the Mountain West Conference? That doesn't look so good.

CSTV — and, thus, CBS — also owns half of The mtn., the channel devoted exclusively to Mountain West Conference sports. Available in only 1.2 million homes, apparently fighting a losing battle in the distribution wars and "bleeding money" (according to its own top executive), The mtn. has been a drag on CSTV. Big media companies in general — and CBS in particular — aren't known for holding onto subsidiaries that are losing money.

There has already been considerable conjecture that CSTV would sell its half of The mtn. to Comcast, which already owns the other half. That speculation will only increase now.

At the other end of this, there's Fox Sports Rocky Mountain and Fox Sports Utah. The regional cable networks are in the process of being acquired by Liberty Media (part of a much bigger deal involving News Corp. (Fox's parent company), DirecTV, the Wall Street Journal and more.

For more than a year, there have been reports in the trade press that Liberty was looking to sell the Fox Sports Net regional networks it's acquiring — including FSN-Rocky Mountain/FSN-Utah — to Comcast.

And that has led to speculation that Denver-based The mtn. would somehow be folded into Denver-based FSN-Rocky Mountain.

Stay tuned ...


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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