The FCC Friday ruled that Gray Television' ABC affiliate WHSV-TV Harrisonburg, Va., can seek must-carry/retransmission consent status from three cable systems serving counties in the Washington designated market area (DMA)--Frederick, Clarke and Warren, but ABC may have something to say about that.
The move was opposed by a number of stations in the Washington market.
Mandatory carriage status is confined to cable systems serving the Nielsen DMA, though exceptions can be made for reasons of localism or market changes, and the FCC made an exception in the case of WHSV.
The rub is that Washington ABC affiliate WJLA also is carried on those cable systems, which divides the viewership to ABC programming between two outlets on the same systems.
Not surprisingly, WJLA opposed the move and has asked ABC to enforce a clause in the standard affiliation contract that confines the transmission of ABC programming to the licensed market.
WJLA's parent Allbritton says the FCC's decision does not change the underlying fact that the affiliation contract all ABC stations sign prevents them from exporting a network signal beyond their Nielsen DMA.
The commission may have required the Adelphia systems--now under Comcast management--to carry the station signal, but it did not change the affiliation contract, says Jerald Fritz, SVP of WJLA parent Allbritton, which means that WHSV's signal on those systems needs to be free of ABC programming.
WHSV has been on the cable systems for several years. In fact, that familiarity with viewers was part of the FCC's decision, saying it was essentially maintaining the status quo.
When WJLA discovered the double carriage--Fritz said it was six or eight months ago--Allbritton asked ABC to weigh in and prevent the retransmission into the Washington DMA counties, as ABC has done in some similar circumstances, according to Fritz. The network asked Gray to stop, he says, but Gray instead filed the request for modification.
Fritz says ABC has already sent a new letter, again asking Gray to stop the retransmissions. Executives at ABC and Gray had not returned calls at press time.