CBS Affiliate in Rural Maryland ‘Very Surprised’ By Breezeline Drop

Jan 08, 2024

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Jan. 8, 2024 – A CBS affiliate in rural Maryland lost thousands of cable subscribers on New Year’s Day. Under the law, there is not much WBOC can do about it.

Based in Salisbury, Md., WBOC was dropped by cable operator Breezeline in a southwest section of the Delmarva Peninsula – an area considered outside WBOC's home market – ending a 15-year relationship that moved along mostly without incident.

“We were very surprised because we serve that area,” said Craig Jahelka, President of Draper Media, owner of WBOC. “We cover news here every day.”

Breezeline’s carriage decision cost WBOC access to about 9,400 cable subscribers. Viewers have been calling the station and using email and social media to express their dissatisfaction.

“They miss us. We are their local station,” Jahelka said.

WBOC has placed a banner on its homepage with a message to Breezeline subscribers explaining its position on the carriage drop.

Typically, a commercial TV station like WBOC can elect free mandatory cable carriage or seek payment for carriage under federal retransmission consent rules. But in this instance, WBOC could not elect must carry with Breezeline. Nor was retransmission consent an option unless Breezeline wanted to distribute the station.

Under the expired agreement, Breezeline did distribute WBOC in a section of the Baltimore Designated Market Area (DMA) adjacent to the station’s home Salisbury DMA. Under Federal Communications Commission rules, cable companies can in some circumstances carry out-of-market stations with the station’s approval.

“What I was told … was that [Breezeline] made a decision to end carrying all out-of-market stations as a cost-cutting measure,” Jahelka said.

Attempts to reach two Breezeline officials for comment via email were unsuccessful.

Breezeline is a subsidiary of Cogeco Communications in Montreal, Canada. The company has about 289,000 U.S. cable TV subscribers. Service areas include portions of Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

The Salisbury DMA has about 193,000 TV households, making it one of the smallest markets in the country. WBOC also owns the local Fox affiliate, but only the CBS signal was included in the expired Breezeline agreement.

WBOC is distributed on popular streaming services like Paramount Plus and YouTube TV. But that won’t help Breezeline subscribers who just lost WBOC. That’s because the streaming services use geofencing technology that disallows out-of-market carriage deals like the expired one WBOC had with Breezeline.

An option still available to Breezeline customers who want access to WBOC is to rely on an antenna. “Absolutely,” Jahelka said.

Jahelka said WBOC – which started broadcasting in 1954 – briefly lost Breezeline carriage about eight years ago, but the signal was restored in about 30 days.

He is not hopeful that Breezeline will reconsider this time

“I don’t believe there’s anything we can do at this point,” Jahelka said. “It’s just a shame.”