In the New York area alone, more than 2.6 million pay-TV customers could be losing access to ABC and ESPN as The Walt Disney Co and cable company Altice USA can’t seem to agree on a distribution contract.
Basically, Altice USA and The Walt Disney Co cannot agree how much the cable company should pay the House of Mouse for all of its programming.
This is a delicate situation, indeed, as Altice—the fourth-largest US cable operator—acquired the Disney programming from Cablevision about two years ago for a reported $17.7 billion. Cablevision delivered Disney-owned programming to customers in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Netherlands-based Altice also acquired Suddenlink—and its 5 million customers—back in May of 2015 for more than $9 billion. Suddenlink served parts of Texas, Louisiana, and West Virginia.
Now, Disney has been warning viewers about the dispute via scrolling messages during regular broadcasts. In a statement, though, the company has also said, “Our contract with Altice is due to expire soon, so we have a responsibility to make our viewers aware of the potential loss of our programming. We remain fully committed to reaching a deal and are hopeful we can do so.”
Altice has responded, explaining, “Despite the fact that viewership of their programming by Optimum customers has been declining in the double digits for years, ESPN and its owner are demanding double the rates for ABC for the same content they offer today, exorbitant fee increases for ESPN, and are trying to force customers who don’t receive ESPN to have to pay for it.”
And the cable provider has also added that it has “already offered an increase in retransmission fees and sports programming costs.”
Disney responded to this saying that the typical Optimum customer, for example, pays at least $160 per month to Altice; and, more importantly, the majority of those sums go right into the pocket of the cable provider. Disney also warns, “For broadcast basic, Altice charges its customers $34, which is more than 15x the amount we are seeking for the market’s most watched station, WABC.”
When Disney threatened to pull these very popular channels—along with the rest of its programming—if they cannot reach a deal by the end of the month, Altice responded,
“This behavior by ESPN is anti-consumer, and we urge ESPN and its owner to stop the threats, leave their programming on for customers and focus on negotiating an agreement that is fair for our Optimum customers.”