The Sunbeam Television-owned Boston station says the loss of its NBC affiliation violates its agreement with the network as well as the conditions of Comcast’s acquisition of NBC. NBC calls it a "meritless lawsuit."
WHDH Suing Comcast Over Loss Of Affiliation
Sunbeam Television, owner of WHDH Boston, today filed suit against Comcast in federal court in Boston over NBC’s January announcement that it intends to terminate its 22-year affiliation with WHDH at the end of 2016. NBC is a unit of Comcast.
NBC plans to create an O&Os in the market, using WNEU, which now airs NBC’s Telemundo..
WHDH says that WNEU’s signal does not reach nearly four million greater Boston residents who currently receive WHDH’s signal, including residents in primarily minority communities such as Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and Brockton. Most of those residents, WHDH claims, would have to purchase cable service from Comcast if they want to keep receiving NBC programming.
WHDH says that when Comcast bought NBC in 2011, “there was widespread concern about the impact this unprecedented accumulation of power in the television industry would have on viewers and other market participants.
“Particularly in markets like Boston, where Comcast is the dominant cable provider, citizen groups, industry participants and government agencies expressed concern that Comcast would seek to leverage its cable holdings and in the process degrade its broadcasting presence and diminish the important public service role that broadcast television stations historically have played.”
To address those concerns, Comcast promised its NBC affiliates (including WHDH) that it would negotiate affiliate extensions in good faith such that over the air access would be maintained, and cable interests would not influence those negotiations. As part of the FCC’s approval of Comcast’s acquisition of NBC, the FCC adopted these same conditions in order to protect the public interest.
WHDH said that it believes that “Comcast has violated these conditions. It also believes that Comcast’s actions violate Massachusetts law prohibiting unfair and deceptive business practices. Finally, WHDH believes that Comcast’s actions violate federal and state antitrust laws because they have enabled Comcast to increase its monopoly power in the Boston television market, and the resulting decrease in competition will harm consumers, advertisers and other broadcasters.”
In its suit, WHDH is seeking an injunction and an order requiring Comcast to comply with its obligations under its agreement with WHDH and the FCC order. WHDH will also seek damages.
Sunbeam Television Corp. also owns Fox affiliate WSVN Miami.
An NBCUniversal spokesperson commented: “NBC has had a long, mutually successful relationship with Sunbeam, which is expiring under the agreed-upon terms of WHDH’s affiliation contract at the end of the year. We are disappointed that Sunbeam has chosen to file this meritless lawsuit, and that it has chosen to do so by constructing baseless claims against our parent company. Rest assured that we will continue to deliver Boston-area viewers the best local news, weather and information along with the NBC news, sports and entertainment programming they already enjoy. Indeed, with the extensive investments we’ve made and will continue to make in our over-the-air service, we will have the best television broadcast offerings in the region, with two major broadcast network stations – NBC Boston and Telemundo Boston – that can reach over-the-air viewers throughout the Boston region in both English and Spanish, as well as a 24/7 cable news network – NECN – that reaches viewers throughout New England.”