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Charter Deal Shows ESPN, Disney Need Linear Carriage

  • Battling companies strike "transformative" agreement to end standoff.
  • Charter gains enhanced ability to customize linear, digital packages.
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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Writer’s Strike End a Boon for Sports Networks, Agencies

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September 26, 2023 | Podcast
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The mere prospect of losing a single NFL game to the Disney-Charter Spectrum dispute helped broker a new deal between the two battling companies.

Just hours before the start of ESPN’s coverage of “Monday Night Football” featuring the highly anticipated matchup of the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, Disney and Charter completed what they are calling a “transformative agreement,” ending a standoff that lasted nearly 11 days.

The deal gets networks such as ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU back on the country’s second-largest cable carrier, providing a key segment of linear carriage for Disney — Charter’s 14.7 million subscribers — and at elevated rates for the company.

A Win For Spectrum Subscribers?

Perhaps more importantly for consumers, the deal grants Charter a series of digital elements, including the ability to offer ESPN+ and an ad-supported version of Disney+ to linear-TV subscribers, as well as the forthcoming full, direct-to-consumer version of ESPN to Spectrum TV Select subscribers. 

Charter will also market Disney-owned streaming services to its customers, particularly its broadband-only consumers. That elevated combination of linear and streaming programming will allow Charter to offer a heightened level of choice to consumers. 

After the now-concluded U.S. Open and two weekends of college football failed to prompt a deal, Disney and Charter’s announcement directly referenced giving Charter subscribers access to Disney programming “in time for ‘Monday Night Football.’” That restored access will be particularly impactful in New York, one of Charter’s top markets, with Monday’s Jets game.

“This deal recognizes both the continued value of linear television and growing popularity of streaming services, while addressing the evolving needs of our consumers,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger and Charter CEO Chris Winfrey in a joint statement.

With Charter’s enhanced ability to customize linear and streaming packages for consumers, as well as most-favored-nation clauses that can promote deal parity across the cable business, Disney could ultimately strike similar agreements with other major carriers. 

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