It appears Durangoans’ love for Denver television stations will be unrequited.
An aggravating situation for sports fans will play out again Sunday, when the Denver Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers game will not be shown on standard satellite or cable systems in La Plata and Montezuma counties.
On June 13, the Federal Communications Commission opened a path for a decades-long quest by residents of La Plata County to swap Albuquerque network affiliates’ signal with Denver’s major network stations’ signals. The commission issued a memorandum opinion and order allowing Denver stations to be shown in La Plata County via satellite providers.
The order came based on a request from La Plata County to modify the satellite television market by allowing satellite providers, principally Dish and DirecTV, to carry Denver’s main network affiliates in the county.
A high-ranking employee of the FCC’s Media Bureau Division, who requested anonymity to provide information about La Plata County’s request, said Denver’s main television stations reported to the FCC that they had not reached retransmission agreements with the satellite providers that would allow them to be carried in La Plata County.
Retransmission agreements are private contracts between a local affiliate and a carrier, like a satellite company, giving permission to a carrier to transmit an affiliate’s signal. Retransmission agreements typically require carriers to offer financial compensation to affiliates – either by paying to carry their signal or by providing advertising time to affiliates.
“Denver stations are indifferent to be carried in La Plata County,” the official said. “Nielsen assigns the area to Albuquerque, and they (the Denver stations) have no desire to be carried in La Plata County or to lift a finger to do so.”
The FCC official said the order would not allow satellite systems to carry the Denver affiliates’ signal in Montezuma County because only La Plata County was part of the request to modify the satellite television market.
However, the official said, it would be relatively easy for Montezuma County to piggyback on La Plata County’s request if county officials also chose to petition the FCC to allow Denver affiliates to be shown there.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said the FCC order addresses governmental obstacles to showing Denver TV in Durango but not private ones – like negotiating retransmission agreements among private parties and adjusting Nielsen Media Research’s designated market areas.
“The question is: Are they willing to address these private obstacles,” Weiser said. “We’re monitoring talks, and I’m willing to nudge them along to come to an agreement. We’ve made clear that the discussions have to move forward and come to a conclusion.”
The FCC’s June 13 order essentially upheld a 2017 ruling that largely grants La Plata County’s petition to allow satellite providers to show Denver stations: KDVR-TV, the Fox affiliate; KCNC-TV, the CBS affiliate; KMGH-TV, the ABC affiliate; and KUSA-TV, the NBC affiliate. The Albuquerque affiliates had challenged that 2017 ruling.
The FCC spokesman said the situation for receiving Denver’s Public Broadcasting Service signal, KRMA-TV in Denver, is even less hopeful because PBS stations are required to be transmitted only in their Nielsen designated market area.
La Plata County residents have long complained that being placed in the Albuquerque television market means residents are provided inadequate television news coverage concerning important political, governmental, economic and cultural issues in Colorado. Also, residents express particular ire when the Albuquerque affiliates don’t show the Broncos games, which happens about once every two years or so.
Durango residents won’t get the Broncos vs. Packers game at 11 a.m. Sunday because the Albuquerque FOX affiliate will air the Miami Dolphins vs. Dallas Cowboys game instead.
Gary Arnett of Durango expressed frustration with the state of affairs – highlighted by the lack of coverage of the Broncos on Sunday.
“It’s super-frustrating. It’s a shame we have to live with these archaic laws,” he said.
Arnett said he was not sure how he was going to watch the Broncos game Sunday, and he said it’s especially important for the family because his wife is from Wisconsin.
“We have a young son, so going to a sports bar isn’t the most appropriate thing,” he said.
Mark Cornetta, general manager of KUSA-TV, the CBS affiliate in Denver, said the FCC order changed little in KUSA’s ability to offer its broadcast signal to satellite customers in La Plata County because Southwest Colorado remains in the Albuquerque Nielson Media Research designated market area. Until that changes, he said, KUSA has only limited ability to provide its signal in Southwest Colorado.
He said KUSA has negotiated for years with satellite companies and cable companies to carry its local programming in La Plata County.
KUSA, he said, offers some local programming though Durango’s cable company Spectrum, which is the cable television brand of Charter Communications, but has failed to negotiate a retransmission agreement with the satellite providers.
As long as La Plata County remains part of Nielson’s designated market area, Cornetta said KUSA had only limited ability to provide local programming to La Plata County either through cable or satellite carriers, and first they must come to a retransmission agreement.
General managers for other Denver network affiliates did not return several telephone calls seeking comment for this report.
Ken Fellman a communications lawyer in Denver, said, “This is speculation, but the affiliates didn’t want this to happen. The Albuquerque affiliates challenged the original order. I think it’s fair to speculate that they could use this (the lack of retransmission agreements) to keep the status quo. That’s reasonable speculation.”