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Estrella TV, Comcast Spar Over Carriage in Three Markets

Estrella TV says that it faces going dark on Comcast’s Houston, Denver and Salt Lake City systems in a carriage dispute that the Spanish-language channel says is a “David vs. Goliath” battle but the cable giant suggests is overblown.

Jose Liberman, founder and chairman of Estrella TV, last week suggested that Comcast, parent company of competitor Telemundo, was “putting its own self-serving business interests ahead of a small minority owned company.” The current carriage agreement expires on Feb. 19.

Comcast, however, insists that it has negotiated in good faith and notes that the three markets represent only 20% of its total distribution of Estrella, which is owned by Spanish-language broadcaster Liberman Broadcasting.

“Most importantly, Comcast is not dropping Estrella; it is Estrella that has decided to pull its signal from Comcast customers,” the cabler said in a statement. Comcast claims that it is offering to carry the Estrella stations under existing arrangements, “which are the same terms we have with other, comparable networks.”

“We do not believe Comcast’s customers should have to pay millions of dollars for Estrella’s broadcast programming that has very limited appeal,” Comcast said. “Contrary to Estrella’s assertions, these stations are not widely viewed among Latino audiences.”

According to Nielsen, during the November sweeps, Estrella TV was the No. 2 Hispanic outlet (behind Univision) among adults 18-49 and No. 1 in adults 18-34. Information from Houston, Denver and Salt Lake City was not available.

Estrella, meanwhile, has launched a campaign, NoQuieroPerderEstrellaTV, with some of its personalities pressing Comcast to retain the channel.

“This has been a real-life David vs. 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,” Liberman said.

The backdrop for the carriage dispute is the proposed Comcast merger with Time Warner Cable, awaiting approval from the Justice Department and the FCC. Both sides have made their case to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as Estrella argues that a loss of carriage will cost jobs as well as that it is a minority-owned, independent programmer up against Telemundo and Univision.

Comcast says that it delivers more than 60 Hispanic cable networks on the majority of its cable systems. After a group of lawmakers asked Comcast to make a formal commitment to carry Latino-owned cable channels as its merger with TW Cable was under review, Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen defended the company’s commitment to independent and Hispanic programming while warning that the merger review should “not be confused by parochial business interests seeking more money and distribution for themselves.”

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