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Charter, ESPN Carriage Battle Intensifies For Football Season

  • Battling companies fail to make significant progress toward new carriage deal
  • ESPN raises its promotion of alternate video providers
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Neither ESPN parent Disney nor Charter Spectrum blinked over the sports-filled Labor Day weekend — escalating a distribution dispute with serious ramifications on the long-term health of the traditional cable TV bundle. 

Five days after 19 Disney channels — including ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU — went dark on the country’s second-largest cable carrier, there has been no significant movement toward a new carriage deal, despite ongoing talks involving top executives at both companies. 

That has led ESPN to raise its promotional offensive and increasingly encourage affected subscribers to seek alternate video providers.

No less than Stephen A. Smith — one of ESPN’s leading on-air personalities with 5.8 million subscribers on X, formerly known as Twitter — posted on the issue Tuesday, telling consumers that “YOU HAVE CHOICES!!!” including streaming services such as YouTube TV, Sling, and Fubo.

ESPN and Disney have also ramped up their broader promotion of Hulu + Live TV, a tier of the Disney-owned streaming service including ESPN+.

Charter, however, remains firm on forging an entirely different paradigm for the traditional bundle, which for decades has relied in part on consumers paying for sports channels whether or not they watch them.

“Charter seems genuinely willing to walk away from Disney, and even the entire linear video model, if necessary,” said media research firm MoffettNathanson. “The collateral damage could be wide-ranging.”

The companies’ actions continue to be closely watched as ESPN’s first “Monday Night Football” game of the season on Sept. 11 approaches.

Charter has 14.7 million subscribers across 41 states — including many in key media markets such as New York and Los Angeles — and trails only Comcast among cable subscribers.

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