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WHDH Suing Comcast Over Loss Of Affiliation

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."

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.

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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.”


Comments (14)

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Don Thompson says:

March 10, 2016 at 10:54 am

What’s encouraging here is that this could be the start of the mass migration of “free” TV to MVPD platforms to free up beachfront spectrum for higher and better uses. Won’t more wireless bandwidth mean a much more enjoyable time watching CBS All Access ($5.99/mo.) on the iPhone 6 Plus? Please Follow Me On Twitter: @TedatACA

    Robert Crookham says:

    March 10, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Yes, it’s clearly in the public interest to encourage the near-monopoly status of MVPD’s, with their miserable customer service and technical quality, so that the public spectrum can be given to telcos, to swipe even more money from the public. I wouldn’t get too excited, Ted. There’s already enough public blowback to the NCAA men’s basketball final going to TBS this year. The public won’t stand for the kind of migration you crave.

    Scott Schirmer says:

    March 10, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    This is the dumbest comment I’ve ever seen on this site. And that’s saying something. Def. not following you on Twitter.

    Keith ONeal says:

    March 10, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    I agree with boisemedia2. you’re dumber than A BOX OF ROCKS!!!

Jeff Douglass says:

March 10, 2016 at 10:58 am

I’m with ED 100%, but if NBC just picked up a LP South of town to cover the missing area, won’t that defeat the whole argument?

    Wagner Pereira says:

    March 10, 2016 at 11:22 am

    Another problem that ATSC 3.0 would have the potential to solve – however, the FCC cares only that the license serve its community of license. The only possible findings for Ed are, sadly, in the details of the 2011 Agreement. However, those might be very hard to prove and open to interpretation.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    March 10, 2016 at 11:51 am

    And while noting how South Boston would have issues with WNEU coverage, WHDH fails to note that area is well covered OTA with NBC Programming by WJAR-TV out of Providence (unless someone thinks Sinclair will be handing in their UHF licenses, lol).

    Keith ONeal says:

    March 10, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    You forget, Insider, that the good people of Boston DO NOT WANT news from Providence. They want news from Boston.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    March 11, 2016 at 11:35 am

    @Flashflood, to use the term you used above, “you’re dumber than A BOX OF ROCKS!!!”
    The “Good People of Boston” have a dial and can continue to get their news from WHDH, not WJAR – just as most people change the dial to get their News!

Sean Smith says:

March 10, 2016 at 4:28 pm

Interesting observation, but you’ll find water on the sun before Sinclair gives up WJAR. As far as NBC picking up an LP south of Boston, there’s little chance of that. You can’t just drop those things anywhere (although networks can pretty much do anything these days). On the surface as the lawsuit reads, Ed Ansin may have a good argument.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    March 10, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    Huh? If South Boston can pick up WJAR OTA, which we both agree Sinclair will keep, there is no good argument that those people will lose NBC Programming in South Boston and be forced to Comcast. What is the “good argument” you speak of?

Manuel Morales says:

March 10, 2016 at 9:13 pm

How many times has Ted checked this thread? 20? 30 times? Poor guy
Such a simple guy. He loves to read his own nonsense.

Sean Smith says:

March 11, 2016 at 10:46 am

First of all, do we as posters know if South Boston can pick up WJAR with an outside antenna? They used to be able to with analog, but digital is a much difference coverage story. That’s one good argument. If any posters on this thread live in the South Boston suburbs, weigh in. Can you pick up WJAR over the air? Ansin’s other good argument may involve antitrust violations that are hinted at in the court filing (I have seen it) that neither you nor I can speak of, because neither of us are FTC attorneys.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    March 11, 2016 at 11:40 am

    Yes they can. Check the coverage maps, as you should have before you posted. The 41dbu extends well North of Boston – almost to the New Hampshire State Line. WJAR picked up an additional 1,000,000+ potential viewers with the switch to ATSC.


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