Disney and Charter End Carriage Dispute, Restore ESPN and ABC to 15 Million Households

By Chase Brown on September 11, 2023 at 11:29 am
Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Disney and Charter Communications have agreed to restore ESPN, ABC and other channels to almost 15 million subscribers, ending a blackout that lasted over a week.

Hours ahead of "Monday Night Football," which airs on Disney's ESPN, the companies have reached a deal that will allow millions of Charter cable customers to watch the New York Jets battle the Buffalo Bills at 8:15 p.m. Additionally, the resolved dispute will offer college football fans who have scrambled to cut the cords an option to keep their Charter cable subscriptions (Spectrum) before Week 3 of the 2023 season.

Disney and Charter's grudge match started in late August when carriage renewal negotiations broke down between the companies and left customers without Disney TV channels. When the blackout first occurred, Charter had about 14.7 million subscribers, many of whom were surprised to see ESPN unavailable when Utah hosted Florida on Aug. 31 and experienced continued frustrations as the companies battled for the next 12 days.

As a result of the blackout, Charter saw some of its Spectrum TV customers cut their bundle in favor of streaming options like Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV. According to a CNBC report, Disney said Hulu + Live TV sign-ups were over 60% higher than expected at the start of September.

At 11:49 a.m., ESPN released this press release about the new agreement between Disney and Charter:

(BURBANK, Calif., and STAMFORD, Conn.) – The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) and Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR) today announced a transformative, multiyear distribution agreement that maximizes value for consumers and supports the linear TV experience as the industry continues to evolve. As part of the deal, the majority of Disney’s networks and stations will be immediately restored to Spectrum’s video customers.

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:

1. 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.

2. ESPN+ will be provided to Spectrum TV Select Plus subscribers.

3. The ESPN flagship direct-to-consumer service will be made available to Spectrum TV Select subscribers when it launches.

4. Charter will maintain flexibility to offer a range of video packages at varying price points based upon different customer viewing preferences.

Charter will also use its significant distribution capabilities to offer Disney’s direct-to-consumer services to all its customers – in particular its large broadband-only customer base – for purchase at retail rates. These include Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, as well as The Disney Bundle.

Effective immediately, Spectrum TV will provide its customers widespread access to a more curated lineup of 19 networks from The Walt Disney Company. Spectrum will continue to carry the ABC Owned Television Stations, Disney Channel, FX and the Nat Geo Channel, in addition to the full suite of ESPN networks. Networks that will no longer be included in Spectrum TV video packages are Baby TV, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, FXM, FXX, Nat Geo Wild and Nat Geo Mundo.To preserve all these valuable business models, the parties have also renewed their commitment to lead the industry in mitigating the effects of unauthorized password sharing.

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