Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass., has voiced concerns over Comcast’s soon-to-launch NBC Boston station and whether its reach will match that of the NBC affiliate that previously served that market.
In a letter to Comcast/NBCUniversal, Markey questioned the media giant on what transmitters will be used when the station launches in January 2017 and and which communities might be unable to access the “same quality of indoor or outdoor antenna coverage in 2017 as they received with WHDH in 2016.”
“I am concerned that when NBC launches its network-owned station in January, some communities in Massachusetts and throughout New England may lose reliable access to free, over-the-air NBC content,” Markey wrote in the letter to Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts. “Seniors, low-income residents, and anyone who has recently ended their pay-TV subscription may be particularly impacted if there is a reduction in coverage.”
Markey also asked what Comcast is doing to educate NBC viewers in the Boston area about the transition.
Earlier this year, Comcast/NBCU announced it would end its affiliate deal with WHDH and launch an NBC-owned and operated station. The end of the affiliation means Comcast doesn’t get access to WHDH’s transmitter.
As a news release from Markey’s office points out, NBC will reportedly use a transmitter in New Hampshire and a recently purchased low-power TV station in Boston to boost NBC’s signal.
Markey’s coverage concerns come nearly one year after Comcast announced its intentions to go the O&O route in Boston. According to a leaked internal memo from January 2016, Valari Staab, president of NBCUniversal Owned Television Studios said the new station "will be a broadcast channel available to over-the-air viewers like our other NBC and Telemundo stations” and that NBC is “committed to expanding our over-the-air coverage of the market and is currently looking at a variety of options to accomplish that."
In an interview with Variety, Ed Ansin, chief executive of WHDH-TV owner Sunbeam Television, said that shortly after NBCU executives informed him the affiliate agreement with his station would not be renewed, NBCU offered him $200 million for WHDH broadcast facilities.
Ansin refused the deal, under the belief that the station's assets were worth around $450 million, factoring in the value of the station’s spectrum due to be offered in the broadcast incentive auction.
Of course, since then the incentive auction has failed to generate the high levels of expected revenue, forcing the FCC to lower the asking price for the airwaves.