Disney pulls ABC, ESPN, FX and other channels from Charter Spectrum service newsbhunt


Walt Disney Co. pulled its channels, including ABC stations and ESPN, from Charter Spectrum‘s pay-TV service Thursday evening in a festering distribution fee dispute.

“We’ve been in ongoing negotiations with Charter Communications for some time and have not yet agreed to a new market-based agreement,” Disney said in a statement. “As a result, their Spectrum TV subscribers no longer have access to our unrivaled portfolio of live sporting events and news coverage plus kids, family and general entertainment programming.”

The channels — including KABC-TV Channel 7 in Los Angeles, ESPN networks, FX, Freeform and National Geographic — went dark at about 5 p.m. Pacific.

Spectrum subscribers immediately lost access to popular programming, including “Jeopardy!,” “Wheel of Fortune” and KABC-TV’s “Eyewitness News.” The cutoff comes during the first week of the U.S. Open tennis tournament from New York, a highlight for many tennis fans, and it coincided with the start of a highly anticipated college football game between the Pac-12’s Utah, ranked No. 14 nationally, and the SEC’s Florida. Spectrum is one of the largest cable providers in the Sunshine State.

Instead, Spectrum subscribers nationwide were greeted by a blue screen with text that said: “We apologize for the inconvenience and are continuing to negotiate in good faith in order to reach a fair agreement.”

Charter Spectrum is the largest pay-TV provider in the Los Angeles region. The service has more than 5 million customers in California and nearly 15 million nationwide.

It’s unclear how long the outage might last, but the start of college and professional football could act as a catalyst to prompt the two sides to hammer out an agreement.

ESPN and ABC are scheduled to air at least 10 college football games featuring Top 25 teams Thursday through Monday, during the first full weekend of the season — creating angst among Spectrum’s football fans.

In recent years, channel outages have become more frequent as cable companies struggle to hold the line on expenses. Cable and satellite TV operators fear that big price hikes would only encourage additional subscribers to switch to lower-cost streaming services.

Distributors, including Charter, instead have tried to negotiate with programmers, including Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global, to secure the ability to offer packages with fewer channels, including fewer sports channels, in a campaign to retain customers.

Walt Disney Co. pulled its channels, including ABC and ESPN, from Charter Spectrum's pay-TV service Thursday.

Spectrum subscribers attempting to watch Disney-owned channels, including ABC and ESPN, were instead greeted with a message about negotiations.

(Iliana Limón Romero / Los Angeles Times)

ESPN has long been among the most expensive channels offered in the cable lineup. For many customers, ESPN is a must-have channel, and that has given Disney the ability to command a premium for the sports channels.

“We are disappointed with the Walt Disney Co.’s decision to remove their networks from our lineup,” Charter said Thursday in a statement. “We would agree to the Walt Disney Co.’s significant rate increase despite their declining ratings. But they are trying to force our customers to pay for their very expensive programming, even those customers who don’t want it, or worse, can’t afford it.”

The Charter Spectrum outage isn’t the only ongoing cable fee dispute. Since early July, DirecTV customers have been without Nexstar TV stations, including KTLA-TV Channel 5 in Los Angeles.

Charter said it would hold a conference call with investors Friday to discuss the Disney dispute.

Disney said in its statement that it was “committed to reaching a mutually agreed upon resolution with Charter.”

“The current video ecosystem is broken,” Charter said in its statement. “With the Walt Disney Co., 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.”

Sports Editor Iliana Limón Romero contributed to this report.


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