An agreement has been reached between Charter Communications and Disney that will return programming to Spectrum cable television systems around the country, including the Outer Banks, Elizabeth City and Ahoskie, following a dispute over how much the cable company pays to carry the channels.
The deal also includes streaming services, including Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ being made more readily available to Spectrum customers.
Along with the ESPN family of networks, the carriage fight involved FX and a number of non-sports networks as well as ABC owned-and-operated stations, and led to Disney pulling the channels from Spectrum the night of August 31.
The agreement came just hours before NFL Monday Night Football makes its season-debut on ESPN with a game between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.
Variety reports the squabble, even though now settled, has the potential to echo in the media sector for months to come as distributors push back on major programmers like Disney that are increasingly putting more of their best content on stand-alone streaming services.
Carriage disputes have become increasingly common in the media industry, as programmers and distributors seek to keep revenue from linear TV flowing as customers jump to digital venues for their news, sports and entertainment.
But this one raised eyebrows, according to Variety.
Charter said it could no longer agree to pay higher rates for the same set of Disney cable networks when the company was losing video subscribers in droves.
Charter said nearly 25 million customers, or 25 percent of the base of multichannel video programming distributors, have canceled their subscriptions over the last five years, and said it felt a rate hike for Disney would require that its basic cable subscribers gaining access to Disney+ at no extra charge, a request that made Disney executives balk.
In a joint statement, Robert A. Iger, CEO, The Walt Disney Company, and Chris Winfrey, CEO, Charter Communications, said:
“Our collective goal has always been to build an innovative model for the future. This deal recognizes both the continued value of linear television and the growing popularity of streaming services while addressing the evolving needs of our consumers. We also want to thank our mutual customers for their patience this past week and are pleased that Spectrum viewers once again have access to Disney’s high-quality sports, news and entertainment programming, in time for Monday Night Football.”
Among the key deal points:
- In the coming months, the Disney+ Basic ad-supported offering will be provided to customers who purchase the Spectrum TV Select package, as part of a wholesale arrangement.
- ESPN+ will be provided to Spectrum TV Select Plus subscribers.
- The ESPN flagship direct-to-consumer service will be made available to Spectrum TV Select subscribers when it launches.
- Charter will maintain flexibility to offer a range of video packages at varying price points based upon different customer viewing preferences.
The channels impacted by the blackout included: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, ESPNU, ESPN News, SEC Network, ACC Network, Longhorn Network, FX, FX Movie Channel, FXX, Freeform, National Geographic, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Mundo, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, BabyTV ABC On Demand programming, and the following local ABC stations: ABC7 Chicago, ABC7 Los Angeles, ABC7 New York, ABC7 San Francisco, ABC11 Raleigh-Durham, ABC13 Houston, ABC30 Fresno.
Eight of the channels will not be returning to the cable lineup on Spectrum: Baby TV, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, FXM, FXX, Nat Geo Wild and Nat Geo Mundo. Those will be available on the streaming platforms only.
The dispute sparked a firestorm of posts and comments on social media, and many longtime Spectrum customers left for direct-to-consumer providers like YoutubeTV, Hulu and others.
This is the not the only carriage dispute between station owners and service provider that impacts northeastern North Carolina.
DirecTV and Nexstar, which owns the NBC and FOX affiliates in Norfolk, are in the middle of dispute that has kept WAVY-10 and WVBT-43 off the satellite service for several weeks.
The Outer Banks and the far northeastern counties of North Carolina are part of the Norfolk television market. Other than a few exceptions on cable systems that still have to blackout network programs, channels coming from the Greenville market are not available.