ESPN goes dark on Spectrum cable as Disney and Charter feud over rates – just as college football season kicks off

ESPN and other Disney-owned channels have gone dark on Charter’s Spectrum cable service, as the two companies intensify their dispute over fees. 

Disney pulled ESPN, ABC and its other cable channels off Spectrum on Thursday night, the eve of college football’s first big games and the middle of US Open tennis coverage.

Spectrum serves huge markets including New York and Los Angeles and has some 32 million customers, many of whom are now fuming at the loss of sports coverage.

At the moment Disney pulled the plug, ESPN was carrying a college football game between Florida and No. 14 Utah while ESPN2 was showing the US Open tennis tournament. 

‘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,’ USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said in a statement. 

Disney pulled ESPN, ABC and its other cable channels off Spectrum on Thursday night amid a rate dispute with Charter. Disney CEO Bob Iger is seen above

Disney pulled ESPN, ABC and its other cable channels off Spectrum on Thursday night amid a rate dispute with Charter. Disney CEO Bob Iger is seen above

Disney pulled ESPN, ABC and its other cable channels off Spectrum on Thursday night amid a rate dispute with Charter. Disney CEO Bob Iger is seen above

At the moment Disney pulled the plug, ESPN was carrying a college football game between Florida and No. 14 Utah, whose quarterback Bryson Barnes is seen above

At the moment Disney pulled the plug, ESPN was carrying a college football game between Florida and No. 14 Utah, whose quarterback Bryson Barnes is seen above

At the moment Disney pulled the plug, ESPN was carrying a college football game between Florida and No. 14 Utah, whose quarterback Bryson Barnes is seen above

College football season begins in earnest on Saturday, with ESPN scheduled to air four major games: No. 20 Oklahoma vs Arkansas State, Auburn vs UMass, No. 23 Texas A&M vs New Mexico, and UCLA vs Coastal Carolina.

ABC is scheduled to carry No. 12 Tennessee vs Virginia, No. 10 Washington vs Boise State, and No. 21 North Carolina vs South Carolina. 

ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ has long reigned as the preeminent Saturday morning pregame show, but faces fresh competition from Fox and its upstart ‘Big Noon Kickoff’ and risks loosing fans if the dispute drags out. 

Other cities where Charter Spectrum is the major cable carrier include Dallas/Fort Worth; Orlando, Florida; Tampa, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; St. Louis; Cleveland; Cincinnati; Milwaukee; and Las Vegas. 

The dispute is mainly over sports network ESPN, which does not have a streaming service and is a big cable attraction, despite losing subscribers each year to cord-cutting.

ESPN traditionally has had the highest carriage fees for cable companies. According to S&P Global, Disney gets an average of $2.20 billion per year from being carried on Charter Spectrum under its 2019 carriage deal. 

Charter flashed a message on screen that urged viewers to contact Disney. ‘We offered Disney a fair deal, yet they are demanding an excessive increase,’ it read.

‘The rising cost of programming is the single greatest factor in higher cable TV prices and we are fighting to hold the line on programming rates imposed on us by companies like Disney.’

Spectrum serves huge markets including New York and Los Angeles and has some 32 million customers, many of whom are now fuming at the loss of sports coverage

Spectrum serves huge markets including New York and Los Angeles and has some 32 million customers, many of whom are now fuming at the loss of sports coverage

Spectrum serves huge markets including New York and Los Angeles and has some 32 million customers, many of whom are now fuming at the loss of sports coverage

The second-round US Open match between top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz (left) and Lloyd Harris (right) was cut off for Spectrum viewers when Disney pulled its channels

The second-round US Open match between top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz (left) and Lloyd Harris (right) was cut off for Spectrum viewers when Disney pulled its channels

The second-round US Open match between top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz (left) and Lloyd Harris (right) was cut off for Spectrum viewers when Disney pulled its channels

Disney fired back in a statement to DailyMail.com saying: ‘Charter has refused to enter into a new agreement with us that reflects market-based terms.’ 

‘Contrary to their claims, we have offered Charter the most favorable terms on rates, distribution, packaging, advertising and more,’ the statement added.

Charter said on Friday ESPN was the ‘lynchpin’ of its video business. Its shares dropped 3.6 percent, while Disney lost 2.4 percent. 

‘Disney might have more to lose than Charter,’ Rosenblatt Securities said, predicting that it could lose billions in profits each year from its traditional TV business if an agreement was not reached.

‘An extended fight with Charter might accelerate Disney’s DTC (direct-to-consumer plans).’ 

Analysts have said Disney has been reluctant to swiftly roll out a DTC plan for ESPN as it needs cash from its profit engine to fund money-losing streaming service, Disney+.

CEO Bob Iger said in July Disney wants to find a strategic partner for ESPN to form a joint venture or buy a stake to help take it directly to consumers.

‘Charter and Disney are ideal partners to establish hybrid linear TV and direct-to-consumer model,’ Richard DiGeronimo, Charter’s president for products and technology said on Friday.

The company, which serves more than 32 million customers in 41 states, has been paying about $2.2 billion in annual programming costs to the entertainment giant.

Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk

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