Disney-Spectrum feud heats up as ESPN goes dark for college football and U.S. Open. Could the NFL be next?
By Weston Blasi
Sports fans were unable to watch college football or the U.S. Open on Thursday night on Spectrum's cable service
ESPN channels went dark for millions of people on Thursday night during a busy time for sports fans.
Cable subscribers to Charter Spectrum were unable to watch any ESPN programming, including a college football game between Florida and No. 14 Utah and any U.S. Open tennis matches after 8 p.m.
Due to an escalating feud between Disney (DIS), which owns ESPN, and Charter Spectrum(CHTR) over contract fees, a number of Disney Entertainment channels become unavailable for Spectrum cable subscribers including ESPN, ESPN2, SEC Network, ACC Network, ESPNU, ABC-owned stations, Disney-branded channels, Freeform, FX and National Geographic.
"We're very disappointed for our fans and viewers around the country that Spectrum and Charter could not resolve their dispute with Disney, resulting in a loss of ESPN coverage of Thursday night's matches. We're very hopeful that this dispute can be resolved as quickly as possible," United States Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier said in a statement to MarketWatch.
Neither Disney nor Spectrum made statements prior to the blackout that if a deal was not reached by a certain date then the channels would no longer function.
"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," Disney Entertainment said in a statement.
"We offered Disney a fair deal, yet they are demanding an excessive increase," Charter Spectrum said in a note to customers. "They also want to limit our ability to provide greater customer choice in programming packages forcing you to take and pay for channels you may not want. The rising cost of programming is the single greatest factor in higher cable TV prices, and we are fighting hard to hold the line on programming rates imposed on us by companies like Disney."
The outage impacts millions of people across America. Spectrum has 14.7 million subscribers, according to the AP, and is the nation's second-largest cable TV provider. Spectrum are large footprints in top media markets such as Los Angeles and New York City.
See also: 1.7 million Americans cut the cord last quarter as traditional TV continues to erode
Many tennis and college football fans took to social media to vent about their disappointment.
Disputes between TV providers and broadcast channels are becoming more commonplace, especially in sports. For YouTubeTV subscribers in New York, the regional sports networks YES Network and SNY are unavailable due to fee disputes, meaning fans cannot watch the Yankees or Mets on the streaming service according to reports.
These disputes are usually resolved in days or weeks, but can last a lot longer. Fans of the NBA's Denver Nuggets franchise have been blocked from watching the team's games if they subscribe to Comcast since 2019. The Nuggets even won its first ever NBA championship in 2023, but fans who lived in or near Denver were not able to watch the games that season on TV.
The dispute between Spectrum and Disney comes at an especially unfortunate time for both parties: football season.
College football and the NFL, both of which feature heavily into ESPN's TV lineup, are some of its most-watched programming of the year. ESPN's Monday Night Football was viewed by an average of over 14 million people per week in 2022, and the College Football Playoff was reached by 42 million people last year.
Interested college football or U.S. Open fans who are trying to watch ESPN or any other Disney-owned channels in the near term do have some other options. In addition to the possibility of changing cable providers, whose availability vary by location, streaming brands YouTubeTV, FuboTV and SlingTV all carry the ESPN family of channels.
The news comes as reports have swirled over the last year that Disney is looking to spin-off ESPN into its own streaming service. When asked during an August conference call about a possible ESPN sale, Disney CEO Bob Iger said he would not "speculate" on the sale of any Disney assets.
Read on: The long-simmering rumor of Apple buying Disney is resurfacing as Bob Iger looks to sell assets
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September 02, 2023 11:19 ET (15:19 GMT)
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