Disney has blocked its channels from being accessed by the nearly 15 million subscribers to Charter’s Spectrum service, the second-largest cable TV provider in the US. The blackout means that viewers in major markets like New York and Los Angeles can’t access ABC, ESPN, FX, Freeform, National Geographic and a dozen other Disney-owned channels.
Carriage disputes happen with some frequency when network owners, like Disney, renegotiate contracts with service providers, like Charter. Disney is seeking higher fees, Charter doesn’t want to pay them, and so Disney has yanked its programming as a negotiation tactic.
Charter says that Disney is “demanding an excessive increase” in fees and wants to force customers to “pay for channels you may not want.” Disney hasn’t entirely fought back against that assertion, telling multiple outlets it’s seeking “rates and terms … driven by the marketplace.”
Channel bundling is a common tactic. A lot of people want ESPN, not everyone wants National Geographic, and requiring them to be sold together can help Disney support its broader suite of programming.
But perhaps more importantly here, Disney’s stock price is down and its TV profits have been falling. A carriage renegotiation with the second-largest cable TV provider is a meaningful opportunity to increase revenue, so it’s not a huge surprise that Disney is playing hardball to get its rates up.