[Editor’s note: Since this story was first published in November, Comcast has reached an agreement with Hearst Television to keep KCRA and other stations on its systems outside of certain designated TV markets. You can read that update by clicking or tapping here.]
Comcast is expected to drop a popular Sacramento TV station from some cable systems in Northern California over costs associated with carrying the channel, according to a notice sent to subscribers last week.
The notice, a copy of which was obtained and reviewed by The Desk, covers Comcast’s cable customers in and around the city of Chico where the station, KCRA-TV (Channel 3), is carried as a secondary NBC affiliate.
For years, Comcast has offered subscribers in many smaller markets the ability to watch two channels that are affiliated with the same network: One channel that is the market affiliate and a second channel from a neighboring, usually much-larger TV market. Other cable companies, including Charter/Spectrum and smaller, regional cable services, employ the same technique.
When this practice first started in the 1970s and 1980s, cable companies touted the offering of neighboring market stations as a way for its customers to enjoy more programming from networks that weren’t always present in their community. This trend accelerated with the launch of Fox in the 1980s and both the WB Network and UPN Network in the 1990s.
Some stations opted in for wide regional coverage in order to secure their dominance as a market leader in local news and programming. When KCRA was a family-owned company, it secured distribution deals with small cable operators as far north as the Oregon border and as far east as the Nevada border. It was also carried on cable systems in portions of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Gradually, these smaller cable companies became swallowed up by corporate behemoths, including TCI Cable, one of the largest pay TV companies in the United States. TCI was later acquired by AT&T Broadband. AT&T sold its broadband division to rival Comcast in 2001.
A series of mergers and acquisitions is how cable systems in the Chico market eventually became controlled by Comcast — and why KCRA, now owned by Hearst Television, will disappear from those out-of-market cable systems on December 22.
“The owner of the station from the neighboring market is insisting we pay additional fees to continue to carry their station in your area,” the notice said. “That station offers much of the same content as the one in your local market. In an effort to keep costs down for our customers, we didn’t accept their proposal.”
For Chico residents, the decision to drop KCRA will leave them with just one option to watch NBC programming: KNVN (Channel 20), which also serves nearby Redding.
But it won’t leave the market without Sacramento-based news at all: Along with in-market CBS affiliate KHSL (Channel 12) and Sinclair-owned ABC affiliate KRCR (Channel 7), Comcast will continue to carry Sacramento’s CBS station KOVR (Channel 13) and ABC affiliate KXTV (Channel 10). And Comcast says customers can continue to watch KCRA’s local news broadcast over the Internet.
In addition to its customers in Chico, Comcast says its residential and business pay TV subscribers in Vallejo and Benicia will also lose access to KCRA starting December 22. The cable company says those customers can watch NBC programming on Comcast-owned KNTV (Channel 11) instead.
The programming change-up doesn’t affect Comcast’s carriage of KCRA in areas that are covered by the Sacramento TV market, and Comcast is expected to renew its carriage agreement with Hearst for its continued distribution of KCRA and other Hearst-owned channels in those areas.