Looks like Marvel’s upcoming Captain America sequel isn’t the only action in the media world that can be called “civil war.” Long time NBC Boston affiliate WHDH today hit Comcast with a wide-ranging injunction seeking and multi-damages desiring lawsuit over the media giant’s plan to cut the station loose and replace it with one it 100% owns.
“After repeatedly promising to discuss with WHDH the renewal of its affiliation but never doing so, on January 7, 2016, Comcast publicly announced that it would not renew its affiliation with WHDH,” says the jury-seeking complaint filed in federal court in Massachusetts on Thursday by WHDH owner Ed Ansin (read it here). “Instead, Comcast announced that it would build its own affiliate in Boston using NECN—a regional, Comcast-owned cable news network with relatively low ratings and a weak presence in the Boston news market—as a base,” the filing adds of the plan fully end its 22-year relationship with WHDH by the end of the year.
“This was an unprecedented step, as no major national broadcaster had ever terminated its relationship with a successful independent affiliate in a major market to build its own local affiliate from scratch.”
“We are disappointed that Sunbeam has chosen to file this meritless lawsuit, and that it has chosen to do so by constructing baseless claims against our parent company,” said an NBCUniversal spokesperson to Deadline (see full statement below). With claims of antitrust violations and stamping all over the agreements that Comcast made with WHDH and over 200 affiliates and the FCC when its multi-billion dollar controlling stake purchase of NBC was approved back in 2011, today’s legal action sets its sights on calling out the company for going too far – both with the law and viewers.
“WNEU’s signal does not reach nearly 4 million greater Boston residents who currently receive WHDH’s signal, including residents in primarily minority communities such as Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and Brockton,” noted a statement from WHDH today. “Most of those residents would have to purchase cable service from Comcast if they want to keep receiving NBC programming.” The lawsuit itself adds to the chorus, stating “Comcast’s conduct violates federal and Massachusetts antitrust statutes because its improper actions were intended to, and did in fact, enhance its already dominant position in the markets for the delivery of commercial television programming and local spot advertising in Boston, harming competition in those markets.”
The FCC also did not respond to requests for comment on the complaint but you can be damn sure they are going to have to say something sooner or later, in or outside of the courts. In case, you have forgotten, Comcast had 51% of NBC Universal when the 2009 initiated deal with GE was approved by the feds 4-years ago. On March 19, 2013, Comcast took 100% control of NBC Universal.
Michael Gass, John Nadas, Anita Spieth and Robert Buchanan, Jr. of Boston’s Choate Hall & Stewart LLP are representing WHDH in the suit.
“NBC has had a long, mutually successful relationship with Sunbeam, which is expiring under the agreed-upon terms of WHDH’s affiliation contract at the end of the year. We are disappointed that Sunbeam has chosen to file this meritless lawsuit, and that it has chosen to do so by constructing baseless claims against our parent company. Rest assured that we will continue to deliver Boston-area viewers the best local news, weather and information along with the NBC news, sports and entertainment programming they already enjoy. Indeed, with the extensive investments we’ve made and will continue to make in our over-the-air service, we will have the best television broadcast offerings in the region, with two major broadcast network stations – NBC Boston and Telemundo Boston – that can reach over-the-air viewers throughout the Boston region in both English and Spanish, as well as a 24×7 cable news network – necn – that reaches viewers throughout New England.”