ABC affiliates fight the battle of Racine, Wisconsin


Racine WI is part of the Milwaukee DMA, and Hearst-Argyle believes it should be the exclusive territory of its Milwaukee ABC affiliate WISN-TV. However, ABC O&O WLS-TV Chicago is also available there on cable, and WISN petitioned the FCC to have it booted off the local Time-Warner Cable system. And failed.

WISN wanted its exclusivity enforced, requiring TWC to black out any prime time or syndicated programming coming in from WLS that duplicates WISN’s programming lineup.

In order to be eligible for carriage in another station’s DMA, WLS must have a 3% share of total viewing hours in the area in question, and weekly circulation of at least 25%. (For independents, the numbers are 2% and 5%).

One argument WLS made was that even if it’s viewership among actual Racine residents may have been too low, it was being viewed by people in other communities making use of the same Time-Warner cable operation. WISN said it was only challenging the service of Racine residents, and said it was up to Time Warner to figure out how to block WLS there and not in other towns.

It all boiled down to whether or not WLS received significant viewership off-air by residents of Racine. Both sides submitted Nielsen data. The data showed that at times WLS slipped below the threshold, but was well within the threshold at others. Charges of cherrypicking among Nielsen sweeps periods went back and forth, but in the end, the a judgment call, FCC said that WLS came closest to following its preferred procedure in offering ratings evidence. WLS may remain on the Racine TWC system.