Charter Communications, which runs Spectrum, and Disney had been locked in a distribution dispute since well before the U.S. Open tennis tournament began this week. In the coming days, and the NFL will kick off, potentially putting two massive sports properties on the list of programming unavailable to Spectrum customers.
Along with the ESPN family of networks, the carriage fight also involves FX and a number of non-sports networks as well as ABC stations.
Spectrum ran spots during ESPN’s coverage of U.S. Open Thursday, warning its customers of the looming blackout, urging them to call a toll-free number to voice their concern about losing the ABC and the Disney cable networks.
The Disney cable networks went dark at 5 PM PT, in the middle of the live coverage of the Carlos Alcaraz-Lloyd Harris U.S. Open match on ESPN 2, leaving only a black screen. Minutes later, a message appeared, informing viewers that The Walt Disney Co. had “removed” its programming.
The local ABC station in LA, KABC-TV, remained on for about 10-15 minutes past 5 PM before also going dark, displaying the same message from Spectrum.
“We’ve been in ongoing negotiations with Charter Communications for some time and have not yet agreed to a new market-based agreement,” Disney Entertainment said in a statement provided to Deadline. “As a result, their Spectrum TV subscribers no longer have access to our unrivaled portfolio of live sporting events and news coverage plus kids, family and general entertainment programming from the ABC Owned Television Stations, the ESPN networks, the Disney-branded channels, Freeform, the FX networks and the National Geographic channels. Disney Entertainment has successful deals in place with pay TV providers of all types and sizes across the country, and the rates and terms we are seeking in this renewal are driven by the marketplace. We’re committed to reaching a mutually agreed upon resolution with Charter and we urge them to work with us to minimize the disruption to their customers.”
With the pay-TV bundle shrinking, economic pressure is increasing dramatically on both operators and programmers to arrive at acceptable financial terms. With millions of subscribers cutting the cord each year, programmers are looking to secure price increases. As war broke out with Disney and Charter, another dispute continued into its third month, with CW parent Nexstar Media Group, owner of the largest local station portfolio in the U.S., still at odds with DirecTV. Carriage disputes have disrupted viewing for decades, but the intensity of the current fights has grown as they become more existential battles playing out in the shadow of Big Tech.
“We are disappointed with The Walt Disney Company’s decision to remove their networks from our lineup and deny our customers the opportunity to watch,” Charter said in its statement. “We would agree to The Walt Disney Company’s significant rate increase despite their declining ratings. But they are trying to force our customers to pay for their very expensive programming, even those customers who don’t want it or worse, can’t afford it.”
In a stark conclusion, the statement went on, “The current video ecosystem is broken. With The Walt Disney Company, we have proposed a model that creates better alignment for the industry and better choices for our customers. We are hopeful we can find a path forward.”