Comcast, Estrella TV Disconnect in 3 DMAs (Updated)

(Updated at 1 p.m. (ET) on Feb. 20)

In a carriage disagreement, Comcast says Spanish-language network Estrella TV has pulled its signals in three markets.

The disconnect came at midnight (CT) for KETD 46 in Denver, KZIZ 44 in Houston and KPNZ in Salt Lake City.

Liberman Broadcasting-owned Estrella TV, which said Comcast forcibly removed it, is trying to upgrade its carriage from must-carry to retransmission-consent status, which would result in license fees and full distribution in the DMAs.

Comcast, which proffers more than 60 Hispanic networks as part of its Latino package, noted that it remains Estrella’s largest distributor, carrying the channel in 13 other DMAs, including top Latino markets  Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Chicago and Fresno, Calif.

The top MSO, which is awaiting federal approvals of its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, said the disconnect marked the first time a programmer pulled its signal in the MSO's history. Comcast said that it has been negotiating in good faith with Estrella for months.

Estrella TV maintains that it is making ratings gains against Telemundo, the Spanish-language broadcaster owned by NBCUniversal, Comcast's programming arm, which warrant an upgrade in its positioning. Comcast says Estrella’s claims of Nielsen advances are vastly overstated.  

“We are very disappointed that Liberman Broadcasting has decided to take away its Estrella broadcast stations from Comcast’s customers in Houston, Denver, and Salt Lake City.  Fortunately,  Liberman’s actions do not affect 80 percent of Comcast’s customers who will continue to receive Estrella in markets like Miami, Chicago, New York, and Fresno.  After more than 50 years of being in business and negotiating thousands of programming agreements, this is the first time a programmer has pulled its signal from our customers," said a Comcast spokesman. 

"Liberman’s precipitous action is particularly puzzling given that we are Estrella’s largest distributor and have been negotiating in good faith to reach a fair arrangement with Liberman," he continued.  "The bottom line is that we want to continue to carry the Estrella stations for our customers in these three markets and offered to do so under our existing arrangements with Liberman, which are the same arrangements we have with other, comparable stations.  Unfortunately, Liberman is insisting that we go far beyond the market and that our customers pay millions of dollars for Estrella programming, which is not widely viewed among Latino audiences, and also is insisting on significant additional distribution throughout our footprint.  We are the nation’s largest cable provider of Spanish-language network packages, so our Hispanic customers will continue to have many viewing choices.  We hope Liberman decides to return these stations to our customers.”

Estrella TV CEO Lenard Liberman offered a different view of the proceedings.

“It is a sad day for television viewers in Houston, Denver, and Salt Lake City with Estrella TV being taken off the air in those markets as Comcast places its own self-serving interests ahead of the requests of its customers,” according to Liberman's statement. “If this disregard and disrespect for its customers is an example of what consumers can expect from Comcast should its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable receives approval, it will be bad news for viewers across the country as it gives Comcast carte blanche to decide who does and does not receive fair distribution. Comcast’s continued false statements about Estrella TV’s performance and so-called low ratings are transparent efforts to misinform and confuse viewers, consumer advocates, politicians, and reporters.”

Estrella TV said Comcast’s most recent offer was without compensation and called for the network to cede the digital rights to all of its programming.

The network said it would continue to negotiate with Comcast.