Disney-Spectrum stalemate suspends streaming for 14.7 million subscribers

Contract dispute continues, disrupting ESPN sports programming slated for this weekend.

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A dispute between Disney and cable provider Spectrum has left roughly 14.7 million cable users with no access to ABC, ESPN and other Disney-owned networks since Aug. 31, just one week before the first regular season NFL game of the year.

With other major sports television events like college football games and the men’s and women’s U.S. Open also set to air this weekend, plus the NFL season kicking off Monday Night Football next week, Spectrum customers whose access to ESPN has been cut off are now forced to find another platform to watch.

“I think it’s kind of unfair, because people now have to spend extra money on other services to watch the same stuff they were watching before,” junior economics major Damian Vassiliev said. “Or they’ll just have to give up what they were watching before, if they don’t have that as an option.”

Charter Communications, Spectrum’s parent company, shared details of its contract dispute with The Walt Disney Company in a statement posted to the company’s website. “For 2023, we had expected to pay The Walt Disney Company more than $2.2 billion for just the right to carry that content, not including the impact of advertising on either party, but we have reached a precipice and must chart a path to change,” the statement said.

Disney, on the other hand, has said the dispute was due to Charter’s “indifference to the needs of millions,” which has led the service provider to “abandon their consumers by denying access to our great programming,” in a statement posted to the ESPN PR X, formerly known as Twitter, account.

Though one might expect Disney and Spectrum to be trying to win back these estranged customers, both of the providers have instead been actively directing viewers to alternative streaming services. Charter has promoted a two-month 25% off discount for the platform Fubo, and Disney has offered viewers links to Hulu, Fubo, Sling and YouTube TV.

This redirection is an unprecedented and unusual move in the history of cable disputes, leaving customers confused as to how this battle might end. With negotiations stalled, the Disney statement further challenged the service provider, asking: “Do you care about your subscribers and what they’re telling you they want — or not?”

The question of what customers want refers to a larger issue in the industry, as streaming services continue to dominate the television market while cable providers have lost nearly 25 million customers — 25% of the total — over the last five years.

“It comes down to where the audiences are, where people’s eyes are,” said Hannah Gibbons, a graduate student studying production. “I know my parents still watch cable, and I want them to have access to the same things that I watch, but I consume my content on streamers.”

Charter has said that it wants to find a way to move forward in the evolving industry with Disney, however, the tension of the negotiation has left them to believe that Disney is ignoring the changing marketplace.

“The current video ecosystem is broken,” Charter said in its statement. “With the Walt Disney Company, we have proposed a model that creates better alignment for the industry and better choices for our customers. We are hopeful we can find a path forward.”