The blackout fight between cable giant Charter Communications and Disney is over.
Hours ahead of “Monday Night Football,” which airs on Disney’s ESPN, the companies reached a deal that would allow millions of Charter cable customers to watch the game.
The deal will see Disney’s ad-supported streaming apps Disney+ and ESPN+ included in packages for some of Charter’s Spectrum pay-TV customers. Disney will receive an increase on the subscriber fees it receives from Charter.
Earlier on Monday CNBC’s David Faber reported a deal between the two companies was nearing and would include a discount on pricing for Disney streaming services for Charter customers.
The news release for the agreement said it includes:
- The Disney+ basic ad-supported offering will be provided to customers who buy the Spectrum TV Select package.
- ESPN+ will be provided to subscribers to Spectrum TV Select Plus subscribers.
- The highly anticipated ESPN streaming service will be made available to Spectrum TV Select subscribers when it launches.
Charter and Disney’s stocks, as well as media peers including Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global traded higher on Monday morning.
Earlier this summer, Charter announced that it would soon offer a sports-lite package to customers, primarily nixing regional sports networks and creating a cheaper option for consumers who don’t watch the networks.
Customers on the Spectrum TV Select Plus plan – which includes the regional sports networks – will receive ESPN+ subscriptions as part of their package.
The plans are set to roll out during the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Disney+’s ad-supported option will be provided to customers who select the Spectrum TV Select package. When ESPN launches its direct-to-consumer streaming option, these customers will also receive access to it. (The new ESPN app will be a streaming version of the cable channel, unlike the ESPN+ app, which doesn’t include all programming.)
The inclusion of Disney’s ad-supported streaming apps for Charter’s customers had appeared to be a sticking point in the negotiations that stalled and led to a blackout. While this deal doesn’t appear to give all Charter pay-TV customers access to all of Disney’s apps – which also include Hulu – it is a step in that direction as cord-cutting ramps up for pay-TV distributors.
The dispute between Charter and Disney had been ongoing since late August when carriage renewal negotiations broke down between the two companies and left millions of customers without Disney TV channels, including ESPN, FX and Disney Channel.
At the time of the blackout, Charter had about 14.7 million customers.
As a result, Charter saw some of its Spectrum pay-TV customers cut its bundle in favor of internet-TV options like Disney’s Hulu + Live TV or Google‘s YouTube TV. In the days following the blackout — which occurred amid the U.S. Open and beginning of the college football season, both of which are featured on ESPN — Disney said Hulu + Live TV sign ups were more than 60% higher than expected.
The dispute dragged on past the NFL season kickoff Thursday, but will end just in time for “Monday Night Football,” therefore not affecting fans immediately.
The NFL is often the key source of leverage network owners like Disney have in negotiations. Media companies, including Disney, collectively paid more than $100 billion to air NFL games over an 11-year period.
Disney owns broadcaster ABC, which airs some “Monday Night Football games.” ESPN+ has an exclusive “Monday Night Football” game this season, too. Disney agreed to pay around $2.7 billion annually for these rights, CNBC previously reported.
Broadband vs cable
Carriage disputes and blackouts are a common occurrence. But Charter billed the moment Disney’s networks went dark as a more pivotal moment, as the company proclaimed that the pay-TV model was broken.
Satellite-TV provider DirecTV and broadcast station owner Nexstar Media Group have been in a similar dispute since earlier in the summer. It has continued past the kickoff of the NFL season. Broadcast networks including CBS and Fox air local NFL games on Sundays.
Hours after the blackout began, Charter executives held an investor call pushing for a revamped deal with Disney that would give Spectrum pay-TV customers free access to Disney’s ad-supported streaming apps Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu.
This point in particular seemed to be the sticking point in negotiations.
Disney had responded that its streaming and TV networks weren’t equal due to the original content that premieres exclusively on live TV and its multi-billion investments in exclusive streaming content.
The public tussle has highlighted the issues facing media companies. Cord-cutting has been rampant and consumers are switching to streaming services at a fast clip. Media companies are using content from their pay-TV channels for their streaming services, arguably accelerating the transition.
Yet, the fees generated from pay-TV providers like Charter for carrying the live networks are still robust — even if they are decreasing with fewer customers in the bundle — and propping up media companies’ cash flow and profitability. Media companies like Disney are still working to make streaming a profitable business.
ESPN is considered to receive some of the highest fees, even prior to the Monday deal with Charter. The network receives $9.42 per subscriber a month, while other Disney networks like ESPN2, FX and Disney Channel get $1.21, $0.93 and $1.25, respectively, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. A Disney representative hasn’t commented on the fees. The media giant has more than 20 networks.
While providing pay-TV services has long been part of Charter, broadband has usurped it as the cornerstone of its profitability and business. Even as consumers cut the TV cord, they remain as broadband customers.
Charter CEO Chris Winfrey had said the company planned to push for similar terms in upcoming negotiations with other content companies.
In the days following the blackout, Winfrey spoke at an investor conference where he said those discussions with other media content companies were already beginning to take place.
He also reiterated the company’s position that the pay-TV model was broken and at an inflection point.