UPDATED with Sunday statement. Disney offered an updated statement Sunday on its thorny carriage dispute with Charter, urging customers to explore switching pay-TV services if they want access to ESPN and other networks.
“Consumers should also know that they have many options today and can choose from competing pay TV providers that offer Disney’s entire portfolio of networks and programming, as well as TV streaming services that can be accessed by downloading an app or over a broadband connection,” the statement said. Not mentioned is that Disney itself is one of those pay-TV providers, with Hulu + Live TV serving 4.3 million subscribers.
Nearly 15 million customers of Charter, the No. 2 U.S. cable operator, have been without ESPN and 17 other Disney networks as well as eight ABC stations in major markets since Thursday due to the impasse. Today’s statement centered on ESPN given the timing of the dispute, at the start of college football season and on the eve of the NFL campaign. The Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions open NFL action on Thursday and ESPN will carry a marquee matchup on September 11 as the New York Jets take on the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football.
Disney’s statement largely reiterated points from the company’s previous rebuttal on Friday, but it also took on on a point that Charter had made specifically about engagement. While Charter execs on Friday said about 25% of its customers “regularly” tune in Disney programming, with 50% of viewers “actively” engaged, Disney says the number is much higher. Citing Nielsen, the media company said 71% of Charter subscribers tune into Disney’s networks or stations in an average month, collectively watching more than 3.3 billion hours of the content over the past year.
Disney has hit back at claims by Charter Communications execs that the media company declined to pursue innovative carriage deals and instead just wanted to ram through price increases.
The companies have been locked in a carriage dispute since last night, with ESPN and 17 other Disney networks going dark on Charter’s Spectrum TV service, along with eight ABC stations. The outage is coming as college football season gets going and the NFL season gets set to start, with football the top draw among all live sports. The U.S. Open Tennis Championships are also being sidelined by the dispute for nearly 15 million Spectrum subscribers in many key markets, including New York and LA.
After the interruption began just after 5 p.m. PT, Charter set a conference call with Wall Street analysts for this morning. On the call, the company insisted that it would very seriously consider “moving on” from the pay-TV business given the rate of cord-cutting and the southward trajectory of talks with Disney. The sentiment on the call and the stark reality of one of the biggest carriage fights in recent memory helped tank the stocks of cable network owners. Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Comcast all declined by between 2% and 12% heading into the closing bell, and major local TV station owners Nexstar and Sinclair also got a major haircut.
“Contrary to their claims, we have offered Charter the most favorable terms on rates, distribution, packaging, advertising and more,” Disney said in a statement. (Read it in full below.)
“We have proposed creative ways to make Disney’s direct-to-consumer services available to their Spectrum TV subscribers, including opportunities for new and flexible packages where those services become a focal point of what the consumer might choose,” the statement added.
Alluding to streaming services Hulu and Disney+, Disney maintains that Charter is “depriving consumers of that content because they are failing to ascribe any value in exchange for licensing those services.”
Disney described its linear channels and direct-to-consumer streaming outlets as “complementary products.” (Charter had emphasized the “overlap” between programming, which it said complicated the negotiations.)
“We continue to invest in original content that premieres exclusively on our linear networks, including live sports, news and appointment viewing programming,” Disney’s statement continued. “Likewise, on our direct-to-consumer services, we make multi-billion-dollar investments in exclusive content, which is incremental to our linear networks.”
Disney concluded by maintaining that it offered Charter an extension in the negotiations to keep the Disney networks up, but Charter declined — “in the middle of programming that is important to their subscribers.”
Still and all, “We value our relationship with Charter and we are ready to get back to the negotiation table to restore access to our unrivaled content to their customers as quickly as possible.”