The FCC has shot down Liberman Broadcasting’s contention that the Commission’s program carriage rules can be considered in its ongoing battle with Comcast over retransmission fees.
In an order released Friday, the FCC ruled that Comcast did not discriminate against Liberman’s Hispanic-targeted Estrella TV network stations, noting that Liberman “failed to put forth sufficient evidence of its program carriage claims to establish a prima facie case.”
The dispute involves three Estrella TV stations in the Houston, Denver, and Salt Lake City DMAs. Based on the stations’ strong ratings, Liberman says it opted for retransmission consent, rather than must-carry, with respect to all of its Estrella TV stations for the three-year cycle beginning January 1, 2015.
In September 2014, an Liberman consultant approached Comcast to negotiate a retransmission consent agreement for the Estrella TV stations. Liberman carriage and compensation comparable to what Comcast afforded to Telemundo—a much bigger network by ratings that just happens to be owned by Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit.
In particular, LBI sought from Comcast “carriage and compensation for all Estrella TV O&Os, carriage in markets where non-owned Estrella TV broadcast affiliates not otherwise carried by Comcast operate, and carriage and compensation in ‘white areas,’” defined as markets where there is neither an Estrella TV O&O nor an affiliate.
Negotiations continued until February 2015, with Comcast unwilling to expand its carriage of Estrella TV programming or to compensate Liberman for that carriage.
On February 19, 2015, Estrella TV’s Houston, Denver and Salt Lake City were dropped from Comcast’s respective channel lineups in those markets, as there was no longer a must-carry rule in effect for the stations.
Comcast argued that the stations were not generating substantial viewing audiences.
That argument proved to have no bearing, as the FCC ultimately sided with Comcast. Given Liberman’s election to upgrade to retransmission consent, it’s now paying the consequences of its decision.
In a statement, Comcast said it was pleased with the Media Bureau’s decision.
“Liberman Broadcasting’s carriage complaint had no basis in law and was simply an attempt to extract carriage of Estrella TV and fees from Comcast that are in no way justified.”