Comcast Set to Remove Some Out-of-Market Hearst TV Stations After All

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Comcast, which reached a deal that allowed it to keep nearly 40 out-of-market stations owned by Hearst TV as part of a larger retransmission consent agreement in December, said on its customer service website that it will remove about 10 of those stations beginning next month. 

“On March 31, 2021 and April 6, 2021, we'll be removing some TV stations in certain areas from neighboring markets,” Comcast said on the website. “Please note that the local station affiliate with the same network in your area will still be available for you to watch.”

According to the Comcast website, on March 31 customers in seven areas would lose access to their out-of-market affiliate: WJCL (ABC) in Twin City, Georgia; WLKY (CBS) in Horse Cave, Kentucky; WYFF (NBC) in Newberry, South Carolina; WLKY (CBS) in Tell City, Indiana; WLWT (NBC) in Connersville, Richmond, Lynn-Winchester, Indiana; WLKY (CBS) in Bedford, Indiana; and WXII (NBC) in Galax, Virginia.

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And on April 6, 2021, five locations would lose the following out-of-market stations: KOAT (ABC) in Portales, New Mexico; KCRA (NBC) in Chico/Oroville, California; KOAT (ABC) in Las Cruces, New Mexico; KCRA (NBC) in Contra Costa/Solano County, California; and KSBW (NBC) in Santa Clara County, California. According to Comcast, the national feeds of all of these stations are subject to local blackout. 

The areas would still keep their respective in-market network affiliates, so they wouldn’t lose access to national network programming.   

Comcast was originally scheduled to remove 38 stations in 35 markets on Dec. 22 after Hearst had said it would begin charging for the out-of-market properties. The stations were located in markets that were outside of the Nielsen Designated Market Areas for Comcast territories, but close enough that Comcast customers could find them relevant. 

For example, one of the stations set to be removed is KOAT-TV, the ABC affiliate in Albuquerque, N.M., that Comcast customers in Portales,  N.M. received in addition to the Amarillo, Texas ABC affiliate, KVII-TV. Portales is located in the Amarillo DMA, but because it is closer to Amarillo (123 miles) compared to Albuquerque (231 miles away), it receives access to both stations. While Portales Comcast customers won’t be able to watch KOAT after April 6, they will still receive the Amarillo ABC affiliate KVII and its local news.

Comcast and Hearst worked out an agreement to keep the stations back in December after some legislators complained. In Massachusetts, U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, and U.S. Reps. Bill Keating and Joseph Kennedy III sent letters to Comcast concerned that by dropping Boston station WCVB (ABC), residents in Bristol County, Mass. that are also served by a Rhode Island ABC affiliate, would lose access to Massachusetts news programming. On Dec. 15, Comcast said it had reached a comprehensive agreement with Hearst that allowed it to continue carrying the out-of-market stations free of charge. 

Comcast said that the decision to remove the stations is part of its normal process of reviewing its channel lineups. A spokesperson said any decision to remove a station is due to several factors and five of the 10 stations that will be removed have their national feeds blacked out, meaning that they broadcast dead air in those respective markets during primetime. Removing the stations also frees up bandwidth that could be used for a variety of things, although Comcast wouldn't specify. 

Hearst declined comment.

Mike Farrell

Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.