Some Optimum cable TV customers in CT lose WTNH

Some Optimum cable TV customers in CT lose WTNH

A Long Island City, N.Y., cable television provider that serves 28 Connecticut municipalities has removed WTNH from its channel lineup.

Altice USA removed the New Haven-based ABC affiliate from the company’s Optimum cable television lineup on Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. in all but nine of the towns served by Optimum.Optimum customers in nine communities that are part of New Haven and Litchfield counties will still be able to get WTNH. Both counties are part of the Hartford-New Haven broadcast market.

WTNH’s Texas-based owner, Nexstar Media Group, has been running information regarding the changeover on the New Haven-based station’s website in the days leading up to the change. Nexstar is urging Optimum subscribers to contact Altice or discontinue service with the company.

Altice first informed its customer that it was dropping WTNH from its Optimum line in an early February e-mail. In a copy of the e-mail obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, Altice officials downplayed the fact that the change is being driven by a dispute over over retransmission fees that the cable system operator has to pay Nexstar in order to carry WTNH.

“Your lineup is unique in that you currently have two almost identical ABC broadcast channels — one from New York City and one from Hartford,” the email from Altice reads in part. “They both carry the same national programming, with some variations. As of March 28, 2023, due to WTNH-8 imposing significant new fees for carriage of their out-of-market station, WTNH-8 will no longer be available.”

Alexa Bonadonna, an Altice spokeswoman, said in a statement “in addition to continuing to offer ABC programming on WABC, we also provide local Connecticut-specific news and weather programming for Fairfield customers on News 12 Connecticut, WFSB-CBS, and WVIT-NBC, and will be launching an additional Connecticut news and entertainment channel, WWAX, on Wednesday.” Prior to removing WTNH from its cable lineup, Bonadonna said Optimum carried both ABC network affiliates.

The dispute between Altice and Nexstar comes three months after WTNH’s owner went through a similar dispute with Comcast Cable in Connecticut. An 11th hour settlement between the two sides averted WTNH being pulled from Comcast’s Connecticut cable systems.

Rich Hanley, an associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, said Connecticut television viewers are caught in an  unenviable position when cable television providers battle with station owners over retransmission fees.

“There needs to be some form of arbitration to protect the consumer from these ongoing battles,” Hanley said. “It’s in the best interest of cable operators to carry local broadcasts, but it’s in the consumer’s interest for the cable companies to keep costs as low as possible because ultimately those fees get passed along. But every time this happens, there is always some tension involved for viewers and in some cases, an interruption of their favorite programs.”

Tom Galatie of Stratford is one of the Optimum customers who is frustrated by Altice dropping WTNH in favor of WABC.

“It’s a shame that New York keeps creeping deeper into New England,” Galatie said Monday. “The FCC really needs to re-do these territories that were developed in 1950’s. Where two markets touch, both stations should be allowed, especially when one market doesn’t care about the far end of their territory. None of the New York stations come to Bridgeport, but they demand carriage.”

Retransmission disputes in Connecticut are further complicated by the fact that Fairfield County is considered part of the New York City media market or Area of Dominant Influence. That’s why in Fairfield County, WABC is considered an in-market station and WTNH is considered out of market.

But Hanley said that while the Federal Communications Commission considers Fairfield County part of the New York City market, many television viewers in that part of Connecticut don’t see things that way.

“People in Stratford don’t think of themselves as being part of the New York market,” he said. “If a station is going to show highlights of a local high school football game or a local news story, it’s going to be the Connecticut station. The market designation defies reality and so these disputes do a great disservice to the public, particularly to those people living on the northern borders of Fairfield County.”

Hanley said viewers in southwestern Fairfield County are in an especially unenviable position because geography makes it a “no man’s land” in terms of television news coverage.

“New York City stations typically only cover Connecticut when something happens that is either sensational or involves news that impact commuters who work in the city,” he said. “And because of the travel time involved in sending a news crew from a Connecticut television station to lower Fairfield County, it becomes less practical for them to expend those coverage resources. That’s where News 12 Connecticut comes in.”

News 12 Connecticut is one of seven cable television news channels operated by Altice that serves New York City and its suburbs.

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