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Dispute leaves millions of cable subscribers without access to Disney, ESPN

Nearly 15 million cable TV subscribers are currently without access to Disney-affiliated channels, due to a business dispute between The Walt Disney Co. and Charter Communications.

ESPN, ABC, FX, National Geographic and Disney-brand channels all went dark for Charter’s Spectrum TV customers the night of Aug. 31, just ahead of a major weekend for U.S. Open tennis and college football.

Carriage disputes like this – revolving around how much money a cable company pays to carry stations like ESPN – are not particularly rare. However, this one is unusual in that Charter is asking Disney to offer its streaming services (with ads) for free to its customers, and provide more flexibility for customers to only pay for the networks they want, as opposed to “bundling” them all together.

It claims that these are necessary changes due to the number of people cutting cable subscriptions outright – 25 percent of Charter’s customers in the past five years, according to the company – and movement of TV programming to streaming services.

However, Disney fired back Friday that, “Although Charter claims to value our direct-to-consumer services, they are demanding these services for free,” and that its streaming and TV products were not the same.

Both sides of the dispute also claimed their opposition had rejected short-term extensions that would have kept customers’ access to the networks.

In the meantime, Charter is informing its Spectrum customers of a deal offered by streaming service Fubo, which carries Disney-affiliated channels, to get two months at a 25 to 30 percent discount – also a rather unusual move, according to Phillip Swann (The TV Answer Man). YouTube TV, which carries ESPN and ABC, has also reportedly begun offering three-week free trials.

According to S&P Global, Disney makes about $2.2 billion per year from channels carried on Spectrum.

(Photo courtesy of Will Buckner | CC BY 2.0)


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