UPDATED with Monday statement. Disney put a finer point on its Sunday message to Spectrum customers, urging them specifically to switch to Hulu + Live TV or even rival streaming TV bundles like YouTube TV.
“This Labor Day weekend has been a frustrating one for millions of Spectrum cable subscribers,” the company said in a blog post, alluding to sports telecasts on ESPN and other Disney channels’ programming that has been AWOL since last Thursday. A carriage dispute has left 18 Disney networks along with eight ABC stations dark on Charter’s Spectrum TV service, which has almost 15 million subscribers.
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“Disney deeply values its relationship with its viewers and is hopeful Charter is ready to have more conversations that will restore access to its content to Spectrum customers as quickly as possible,” the blog post added. “However, if you are one of these frustrated customers, it can be infuriating to not be able to access the content you want. Luckily, consumers have more choices today than ever before to immediately access the programming they want without a cable subscription.”
Hulu + Live TV, which Disney has controlled since 2019, was the primarily alternative recommended, but the blog post also suggests DirecTV Stream, YouTube TV, Sling and Fubo. As common as cable and satellite carriage disputes have become, it is rare for a programmer to suggest customers of its distribution partner take their business across the street. But so it goes with Disney v. Charter, one of the biggest carriage feuds to break out in recent memory, with some $2.2 billion in annual fees at stake.
Major programming, especially live sports, has been airing outside of Charter’s footprint during the impasse. Sunday’s Florida State-LSU college football game drew 9.1 million viewers, the second-biggest tune-in for a college game played over Labor Day Weekend, ESPN said. Dozens of other college games have been carried across ESPN platforms in recent days, along with the U.S. Open Tennis Championships and its outsized number of American title contenders. Next Monday will see the New York Jets and their new quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, take on the Buffalo Bills on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
SUNDAY UPDATE: Disney offered an updated statement Sunday on its thorny carriage dispute with Charter, urging customers to explore switching pay-TV services if they want access to ESPN and other networks.
“Consumers should also know that they have many options today and can choose from competing pay TV providers that offer Disney’s entire portfolio of networks and programming, as well as TV streaming services that can be accessed by downloading an app or over a broadband connection,” the statement said. Not mentioned is that Disney itself is one of those pay-TV providers, with Hulu + Live TV serving 4.3 million subscribers.
Nearly 15 million customers of Charter, the No. 2 U.S. cable operator, have been without ESPN and 17 other Disney networks as well as eight ABC stations in major markets since Thursday due to the impasse. Today’s statement centered on ESPN given the timing of the dispute, at the start of college football season and on the eve of the NFL campaign. The Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions open NFL action on Thursday and ESPN will carry a marquee matchup on September 11 as the New York Jets take on the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football.
Disney’s statement largely reiterated points from the company’s previous rebuttal on Friday, but it also took on on a point that Charter had made specifically about engagement. While Charter execs on Friday said about 25% of its customers “regularly” tune in Disney programming, with 50% of viewers “actively” engaged, Disney says the number is much higher. Citing Nielsen, the media company said 71% of Charter subscribers tune into Disney’s networks or stations in an average month, collectively watching more than 3.3 billion hours of the content over the past year.
PREVIOUSLY: Disney has hit back at claims by Charter Communications execs that the media company declined to pursue innovative carriage deals and instead just wanted to ram through price increases.
The companies have been locked in a carriage dispute since last night, with ESPN and 17 other Disney networks going dark on Charter’s Spectrum TV service, along with eight ABC stations. The outage is coming as college football season gets going and the NFL season gets set to start, with football the top draw among all live sports. The U.S. Open Tennis Championships are also being sidelined by the dispute for nearly 15 million Spectrum subscribers in many key markets, including New York and LA.
After the interruption began just after 5 p.m. PT, Charter set a conference call with Wall Street analysts for this morning. On the call, the company insisted that it would very seriously consider “moving on” from the pay-TV business given the rate of cord-cutting and the southward trajectory of talks with Disney. The sentiment on the call and the stark reality of one of the biggest carriage fights in recent memory helped tank the stocks of cable network owners. Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Comcast all declined by between 2% and 12% heading into the closing bell, and major local TV station owners Nexstar and Sinclair also got a major haircut.
“Contrary to their claims, we have offered Charter the most favorable terms on rates, distribution, packaging, advertising and more,” Disney said in a statement. (Read it in full below.)
“We have proposed creative ways to make Disney’s direct-to-consumer services available to their Spectrum TV subscribers, including opportunities for new and flexible packages where those services become a focal point of what the consumer might choose,” the statement added.
Alluding to streaming services Hulu and Disney+, Disney maintains that Charter is “depriving consumers of that content because they are failing to ascribe any value in exchange for licensing those services.”
Disney described its linear channels and direct-to-consumer streaming outlets as “complementary products.” (Charter had emphasized the “overlap” between programming, which it said complicated the negotiations.)
“We continue to invest in original content that premieres exclusively on our linear networks, including live sports, news and appointment viewing programming,” Disney’s statement continued. “Likewise, on our direct-to-consumer services, we make multi-billion-dollar investments in exclusive content, which is incremental to our linear networks.”
Disney concluded by maintaining that it offered Charter an extension in the negotiations to keep the Disney networks up, but Charter declined — “in the middle of programming that is important to their subscribers.”
Still and all, “We value our relationship with Charter and we are ready to get back to the negotiation table to restore access to our unrivaled content to their customers as quickly as possible.”
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