NBC Finds Short-Term Fix to Extend Boston Reach

Faced with the growing concerns of legislators that Boston viewers will be shut out of NBC programming, Comcast Monday said it has entered a deal with WMFP that will extend the reach of its new NBC Boston O&O.

In a letter to Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Comcast senior executive VP David Cohen said the new station, WBTS, will be rebroadcast on WMFP’s digital channel, which runs religious programming, until the company can buy a second full-powered station in Boston.

Cohen said retransmitting the signal via WMFP, as well as the two transmitters and low-powered station Comcast already purchased, will strengthen WBTS’ signal so much that it will reach 275,000 viewers more than the current NBC affiliate, Sunbeam’s WHDH, does. WBTS is officially launching Jan. 1 on a digital subchannel of WNEU, NBC’s New Hampshire-based Telemundo station.  Over-the-air viewers will be able to watch the station on channels 8.1, 60.2 and 60.5

Related: Reps. Joe Kennedy, Stephen Lynch Press NBC on Boston TV Access

Cohen said Comcast has already had preliminary discussions with Boston station owners about buying a second full-powered station but can’t further the process until after the broadcast spectrum auction ends.

“In the interim, NBC is taking extraordinary steps to cover the Boston market with three broadcast television stations… which are collectively referred to as ‘NBC Boston,’” he said.

Related: As New NBC O&O Goes Live, Boston Braces for Shakeup

Cohen’s letter to Markey comes a week after the Massachusetts Democrat wrote Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, saying he was concerned that NBC’s new station won’t reach viewers without pay-TV subscriptions, particularly seniors and low-income residents. In the time since, fellow Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, as well as house members, also pressed Comcast for answers.

“I appreciate Comcast-NBCUniversal taking additional steps at my urging to temporarily expand the reach of its signal to cover most residents in Massachusetts and its stated intention to find a permanent solution to ensure full coverage of the market as soon as possible,” said Markey in response to the letter. “I will continue to urge Comcast-NBCUniversal to ensure that all residents throughout the region can enjoy the same quality and reliability of free, over-the-air NBC content as soon as possible.”   

(Photo via Rene Schwietzke's Flickr. Image taken on Nov. 1, 2016 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)