Estrella TV, Comcast Face Carriage Deadline in 3 DMAs

With carriage expiration looming later this month, Spanish-language service Estrella TV says it is facing a disconnect with Comcast in three markets.

Liberman Broadcasting-owned Estrella TV said Comcast is forcing it off the air in Houston, Denver and Salt Lake City. Comcast said it is continuing to negotiate with Estrella.

The three stations are on Comcast  via must-carry agreements, which will expire at midnight on Feb. 20. Comcast, which is awating federal approval for its proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable, carries Estrella in 13 other markets and says it is the station owner that is pushing toward the service disruption.

"Comcast already distributes Estrella TV programming broadly as Estrella’s largest distributor and we have been negotiating in good faith for months with Liberman Broadcasting to continue carrying its broadcast signals in these three markets, which represent only 20 percent of our total Estrella distribution,” said the nation’s largest MSO in a statement. “Most importantly, Comcast is not dropping Estrella – it is Estrella that has decided to pull its signal from Comcast customers. In fact, we’ve offered to continue to carry their stations under the existing arrangements, which are the same terms we have with other, comparable networks.”

Representatives for Estrella, which is available to some 33 million households via distribution deals with AT&T U-verse, Mediacom, Charter and Frontier Communications, as well as station affilation contracts, indicate the network is seeking license fee compensation. They say fees are warranted given its ratings performance in Salt Lake City, where they claim Estrella TV has been a top Nielsen performer among Hispanics 25 to 54 in primetime and has ranked second with that group in Denver.

“This has been a real-life David versus Goliath battle, with our minority-owned company fighting one of the largest companies in America, and armed with a simple message: let the people watch what they want to watch,” said Estrella TV founder and chairman José Liberman. “With Estrella TV now surpassing Telemundo in the Los Angeles market and elsewhere, it is troubling to see Comcast act irresponsibly by putting its own self-serving business interests ahead of a small minority-owned company, and ahead of Comcast’s Hispanic customers.”

To get its message out, Estrella TV, tapping sister radio stations in the three markets in question, has launched a campaign to educate its supporters about the loss of programming choice for Spanish-speaking viewers and the "real" reasons behind Comcast’s decision to force Estrella TV off its systems. The campaign is also utilizing social media to reach Hispanic audiences, encouraging them to contact Comcast to demand that Estrella TV remain on its cable lineup in Houston, Denver, and Salt Lake City.

Estrella TV said a number of Latino celebrities -- Don Cheto, Noel Torres, Tucanes de Tijuana, Arrolladora Banda El Limon, Luis Coronel, Enrique Gratas, Myrka Dellanos, Julion Alvarez, Banda los Recoditos, and Kevin Ortiz -- have joined the initiative, “No Pierdas Estrella TV,” to keep the network on the air.

Comcast countered by saying its customers shouldn’t have to “pay millions of dollars for Estrella’s broadcast programming that has very limited appeal.  Contrary to Estrella’s assertions, these stations are not widely viewed among Latino audiences. We have reached thousands of agreements with broadcasters and programmers without ever experiencing an interruption of service and are proud to be the nation’s largest cable provider of Spanish- language network packages, with a distribution platform that delivers more than 60 Hispanic cable networks on the majority of Comcast Cable systems. We hope to reach a fair agreement with Liberman and avoid service interruptions. So long as Liberman reciprocates our ongoing good faith negotiations, our customers should not lose this programming.”