Already facing a wide range of mounting internal and industry challenges, ESPN and parent company Disney are now dark on the country’s second-largest cable carrier due to a nasty distribution dispute with Charter Spectrum.
Nineteen Disney channels — including ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU — went dark on Charter Spectrum late Thursday, removing those networks from 14.7 million subscribers across 41 states, including many in key media markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Atlanta, with sports standing as a central component in the battle.
Perhaps most jarring, the channel removal happened Thursday evening in the midst of the U.S. Open — a key event for ESPN — as well as coverage of a Florida-Utah college football game. And the dispute is now set to extend into what will be a jam-packed sports weekend that will include more tennis, college football, and baseball, plus other programming on ESPN networks.
And without immediate resolution, even bigger events such as the Sept. 11 start of “Monday Night Football” are at risk.
“We’re on the edge of a precipice. We’re either moving forward with a new collaborative video model, or we’re moving on,” Charter president CEO Chris Winfrey said in a call with Wall Street analysts on Friday. “This is not a typical carriage dispute.”
Disney said it is trying to reach a “market-based agreement,” and particularly blasted Charter’s actions as a “disservice to consumers” in depriving millions from the start of the 2023 college football season and U.S. Open.
“Disney Entertainment has successful deals in place with pay-TV providers of all types and sizes across the country,” the company said. “We’re committed to reaching a mutually agreed-upon resolution with Charter, and we urge them to work with us to minimize the disruption to their consumers.”