Last week we cringed to the news that the Astros drew an average local viewership of 1,000 people for a game—less than for an out-of-market WNBA game on at the same time. How bad could it get for yesterday's 9-2 loss at Cleveland, which went up against the Texans' game? Pretty damn bad.
Via the Chronicle, the Nielsen meters didn't budge. The game pulled a 0.00 rating in the Houston market. Officially and forever more, the Astros played a game and no one watched.
It's not as bad as it sounds. The Nielsen numbers are calculated by extrapolating a limited number of meters, in this case 581 of them. So it's more accurate to say that of 581 randomly selected Houston-area households, none tuned into the Astros game.
A more significant issue is that most of the Houstonians who want to watch Astros games can't. CSN Houston has been waging a year-long battle over carriage fees. At a stalemate since the channel went on the air last October, it's still not carried on AT&T, Time Warner, DirecTV, and Dish Network. It's available in roughly 40 percent of Houston households.
This is a much bigger problem for the Astros than low ratings toward the end of a bad season. The team owns 46 percent of CSN Houston, which is undoubtedly running at a loss even without counting the massive startup costs for a new network.
CSN Houston "has been a bust," according to media research firm SNL Kagan.
SNL Kagan predicts CSN Houston will be unable to strike carriage deals until 2014 with Suddenlink, which services the Kingwood area and dozens of other markets across the five-state area, and 2015 with DirecTV. No projection was given for U-verse, and SNL Kagan said a deal with Dish Network is "unlikely," given its current stance on subscriber fees with regional sports networks.
A former AT&T official recently told an industry conference in New York that "viewer intensity" was so low in one of its key markets - presumably Houston - that U-verse did not fear losing customers if it delayed signing a deal with CSN Houston.
So maybe a 0.00 Nielsen rating sounds worse than it is, but if CSN Houston pulls more numbers like that without lowering its desired subscriber fee, it's going to be a long while before the majority of Houstonians are even able to watch Astros baseball.