Disney, Charter settle cable dispute hours before Monday Night Football season opener

Disney, Charter settle cable dispute hours before ‘Monday Night Football’ season opener

(As originally published with additional photos, Mon, September 11th 2023, 9:29 PM EDT)

NEW YORK (TND) — There were 15 million winners, at least in the short-term, hours before the first “Monday Night Football” kickoff of this NFL season.

The multibillion-dollar business dispute between the Walt Disney Co. and Charter Communications ended in time for fans to watch quarterback Aaron Rodgers take the field with the New York Jets for the first time.

This wasn’t a typical showdown between TV station owners and pay-TV companies that happen all too often.

This time, there was more to the story than Disney wanting more money per subscriber from Charter-owned Spectrum TV — which would ultimately be passed on to those customers.

Disney has quite a bundle. It’s the parent company of ABC, which owns TV stations in eight cities, but it also has the ESPN networks, National Geographic, and FX for the whole country.

And speaking of bundles, a deal had to involve all those stations: 27 in all. There’s no a la carte for cable companies, as there’s no a la carte for cable customers.

Charter knew charging its customers more would lead to more cord-cutting. It also knew companies like Disney were making huge investments in streaming, rather than technology the way TV used to be.

With no new agreement at the end of August, Disney pulled its channels from Charter customers.

Some customers watched ABC stations over the air for free. Another alternative was streaming. Charter even tried to keep its customers happy by helping them access the network in other ways. Charter had even discussed getting out of the cable business and trying to keep customers paying for internet connections, so they could stream, instead.

ESPN, paying big bucks for rights to carry live sports, charges more than any other channel, but customers paying Charter to watch the U.S. Open tennis tournament and the first college football weekend didn’t get it the way they wanted.

“When the passionate fan base is being deprived of something they desire, you’re going to hear about it,” said John Fortunato, a communications professor at Fordham University who specializes in sports media.

Finally, the Monday night faceoff involving the Jets and Buffalo Bills, two New York teams on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, was in a league of its own — and Charter is the big cable company in both of those cities.

Disney, Charter settle cable dispute hours before Monday Night Football season opener
FILE – The ESPN logo is seen prior to an NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sept. 16, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/David Kohl, File)

The dispute was supposed to be one for the ages, until Monday morning when a deal was announced.

This is what was made public:

Spectrum cable customers will get the Disney+ and ESPN+ streaming services at no extra cost. Disney had initially balked at that.

They’ll also get a new direct-to-consumer — read: no cable company needed — ESPN streaming service in the works, when it’s launched. That’ll help establish the service and put Disney and Charter both in the cable and streaming businesses.

“We love the flexibility of this deal,” ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said. “We love the creativity.”

As for breaking the Disney bundle, the deal reduces it to just to 19 networks. Disney will keep getting paid for those stations.

Charter is expected to pay more, although the amount was not announced. The amount of an increase is never released. Neither is how much more consumers will have to shell out.

“On the surface, the terms of the settlement that were made public suggest Disney could not afford to let the dispute simmer, and Charter may have been bluffing when it said it was ready to walk away from the cable TV business,” said Paul Verna, principal analyst at Insider Intelligence.

“In addition to these unknowns, the larger issues around the viability of the traditional pay TV bundle and the challenges in monetizing streaming media will continue to haunt the industry as it navigates the transition from linear to digital,” Verna added. “Other carriage disputes are inevitable, and they will again raise these unresolved questions for media owners and distributors.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.

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