In a notice posted online, Comcast said its agreement with Hearst Television is expiring at the end of December, and if the company can’t reach a new agreement, it may be forced to drop around a dozen local television channels in markets served by the cable company.
A lapsed agreement would result in NBC affiliate KCRA-TV (Channel 3) and sister-station KQCA (Channel 58, Cable 4) dropped from Comcast’s Xfinity systems throughout Northern California. Comcast is one of several providers of traditional pay TV service in Sacramento itself.
“Comcast has successfully renegotiated thousands of expiring contracts over the years and rarely experienced an interruption of service,” a notice posted online said. “However, it is possible that contracts for the channels listed…will not be renewed, in which case Comcast would no longer have the right to carry those channels on our systems.”
Comcast says a lapsed agreement would also result in the removal of digital over-the-air networks affiliated with affected stations. In Sacramento, Comcast would be forced to remove Me TV, Heroes & Icons and Estrella TV because they are affiliated with either KCRA or KQCA.
NBC LX, an over-the-air digital network programmed by Comcast’s NBC Universal subsidiary, would not be affected because it is carried in the Sacramento market on a different low-power station. ESPN, a channel in which Hearst Television owns a minority stake, would also not be affected by a lapsed agreement. (ESPN is majority-owned by the Walt Disney Company.)
In addition to the two Sacramento stations, Comcast is warning of other possible disruptions involving Hearst-owned channels, including Orlando NBC affiliate WESH (Channel 2), Louisville CBS affiliate WLKY (Channel 32) and Winston-Salem NBC affiliate WXII (Channel 12).
In filings made with the Federal Communications Commission, Hearst Television said it had opted for re-transmission consent over mandatory carriage for all of the stations in its portfolio, meaning any cable company that wishes to carry them must pay Hearst a fee in exchange for the right to provide the channels to their customers.
Carriage disputes with pay TV networks have increased in recent years as programmers seek to charge more fees in exchange for the right to carry their networks and distributors wrestle with the decision to raise subscription fees for customers. Rising costs largely blamed on re-transmission contracts have resulted in customers ditching traditional cable and satellite services for cheaper streaming options, an increasing trend known as “cord-cutting.”
Comcast has largely been insulated from contractual disputes, opting to reach deals and raise fees instead of losing channels, though last year it threatened to remove Starz in favor of Epix and swapped linear Cinemax channels for its own premium on-demand movie service called Hitz.