Why Charter and Disney Are Fighting, and What It Means for Viewers

A dispute with Charter's Spectrum service is preventing millions of subscribers from watching the U.S. Open and college football games, with potential significant implications for the industry.

Why Charter and Disney Are Fighting, and What It Means for Viewers

What's the dispute about?

At first glance, the disagreement revolves around the amount Disney can levy Charter for its content, and the price Charter's customers will have to pay to access Disney's streaming applications. However, it could also have broader implications. Charter and Disney, two of the leading entities in the cable and TV sectors, are at odds over the optimal method of distributing films and TV series in a period where traditional viewership is dwindling and streaming is gaining traction.

How frequent are such conflicts?

Disputes between cable firms and content creators are a common occurrence. Media corporations like Disney typically aim to increase the price for their content, while cable providers such as Charter strive to reduce their expenses during a period of falling subscribers. Until a consensus is reached, TV channels frequently go off-air on cable and satellite TV providers for days or even weeks, annoying viewers who feel they aren't getting value for their money.

What makes this situation unique?

Charter is framing the blackout of Disney's channels, including ESPN, as a battle for the future of television. The company took the extraordinary measure of organizing an early morning press conference on Friday to establish its stance, stating that it attempted but failed to convince Disney to consent to a 'revolutionary deal' that would merge traditional TV packages and streaming app subscriptions. Disney has stated that it has 'offered innovative methods to make Disney's direct-to-consumer services accessible to their Spectrum TV subscribers.'

What has been Disney's reaction?

Disney retaliated against Charter on Friday, accusing the cable firm of refusing to enter a new contract that 'reflects market-based conditions.' Disney also stated in a press release that it had invested billions of dollars in its streaming services, which include Disney+ and ESPN+, and that Charter wanted to offer them to its subscribers for free.

'Charter's actions are a disservice to consumers ahead of the start of the college football season on ABC and ESPN's networks,' Disney declared in a statement.

What does this imply for viewers?

Until Disney and Charter come to an agreement, the company's TV channels, including ESPN, will be unavailable for the 15 million individuals who subscribe to Charter's Spectrum service. For many, this will mean no access to the U.S. Open tennis tournament, no college football on ESPN, and no Saturday morning cartoons like 'Bluey' on the Disney Channel.

However, viewers do have other options. A large portion of Disney's content library is accessible on Disney+, allowing viewers who are willing to pay a monthly fee to bypass parts of the cable blackout. Additionally, streaming services like YouTube TV continue to offer the ABC broadcast network and its coverage of the U.S. Open.

There's a possibility that with Disney's channels on Spectrum going dark, Charter's customers may simply cancel their subscriptions and choose other options. But that's a risk Charter has demonstrated it's prepared to take, particularly as its business shifts from cable to subscriptions for products like broadband internet and wireless service.