Unhappy New Mexico Advertisers Sue Comcast


Some advertisers in Albuquerque, N.M., have sued Comcast Corp., claiming they were misled as to how many cable homes would receive their regional ads.

Local ad agencies Cheetah Advertising Inc., BTFC Advertising Group Inc. and Target Media LLC filed the suit, seeking damages, in the Second Judicial Court in Bernalillo County on May 27.

Other plaintiffs include Zangara Dodge Inc. and Michele Apodaca March, doing business as MA Media Buying.

A Comcast spokesperson said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation, and added that the company will aggressively defend against the allegations in court.

"We firmly believe that the source of these allegations may be a former employee and not credible," she said, adding the company clearly explains the reach of its advertising availabilities to advertisers.

Attorney Robert Lohbeck, representing the plaintiffs, claimed the advertisers got less than they bargained for after buying time from Comcast MarketLink, the MSO's regional advertising interconnect.

While they thought their spots would reach 215,000 cable homes throughout New Mexico, they later learned that the reach of their advertising was not that broad, he claimed.

The problems are linked to the state's geography: Some New Mexico communities receive West Coast network feeds, while others receive East Coast transmissions. Lohbeck said the plaintiffs claim spots were placed in the specific programs in both zones until 2001, when the cable operator quietly dropped that practice.

The advertisers also said Comcast included broadcast-basic subscribers in its coverage numbers, but those homes don't receive ad-insertable satellite networks, Lohbeck said.

Advertisers also didn't realize that homes equipped with digital set-tops would not receive commercials bought on the analog-only TV Guide Channel, the attorney said.

The lawsuit demonstrates why local cable is a difficult medium to buy, other advertising executives said.

"A local buyer should know all this," Howard Nass of agency Nass-Hitzig said of the issues raised. "They need to ask questions — 'What am I getting in absolute homes?'— and spell out the details in the contract."

Comcast, which now operates systems in 22 of the top 25 media markets, generates about $1 billion in local ad sales per year, and cable-unit president Steve Burke has said he wants to see that figure doubled within five years.

Lohbeck said he's contacting buyers in other Comcast markets to determine if the alleged practices have occured elsewhere.