The cat and mouse game between television networks and cable and satellite operators has never been more pronounced. With multi-network conglomerates and these distributors doing battle very publicly, consumers often get caught in the middle (many of them saying the heck with it and cutting the cord to move exclusively to streaming platforms). We've seen many notable disputes including Time Warner vs NFL Network (finally resolved after a decade), Dish vs AMC, and even the current Weather Channel v DirecTV feud.
Over the years satellite giant Dish Network has been particularly tough in these negotiations, and particularly with ESPN. The two sides have even gone to court over rights fees and costs. However, Dish and ESPN are turning over a new leaf with a groundbreaking deal that is a major, major development in the sports world.
Dish reached a wide-ranging agreement with Disney that not only settled standing litigation, but also makes all the networks of ESPN available to Dish consumers. This includes the SEC Network, which launches this August, and the Longhorn Network.
In addition, Dish customers will have access to Disney's video on demand services including WatchESPN and the introduction of a new ESPN Classic on demand channel. There will also be an over-the-top component featuring several ABC networks including ESPN and ESPN2. ESPN head honcho John Skipper had this to say about the agreement:
“We worked with DISH to smartly address the future of the multi-screen world on several levels. Together, we are adding value to the traditional video subscription by making great content accessible across platforms and delivering new products, including our WatchESPN authenticated networks, the highly anticipated launch of the SEC ESPN Network, expanded distribution for Longhorn Network, and a reimagined ESPN Classic video-on-demand channel. At the same time, we are creating opportunities to add new subscribers and introducing the value of a multichannel subscription to a small subset of broadband-only consumers.”
While the minutiae of the Dish-ESPN deal is interesting, the biggest immediate impact is Dish being the first major provider to carry SEC Network. When the network was announced, it could only count on AT&T U-Verse as a carrier with any kind of significant carriage. Now that Dish is on board, it gives ESPN huge leverage in its negotiations with other satellite and cable operators. Now that Dish has agreed to carry SEC Network, it gives those hardcore fans an option in case other distributors play hardball. It puts the pressure on the likes of DirecTV and other cable companies to also carry SEC Network or risk losing customers. The first major carriage agreement in these negotiations is always the most important and now that ESPN has gotten SEC Network off the ground with Dish, the first big hurdle has been cleared.
It shouldn't be forgotten how huge this day is for Longhorn Network as well now that a major national provider is on board. According to ESPN, the agreement with Dish doubles the national distribution for the network. In many ways, this is an affirmation for the people at Longhorn Network, who have seen their fair share of struggles in gaining distribution and finding an audience.
The Disney-Dish deal also represents how big of a competitive advantage it is for Texas and the SEC to be business partners with ESPN. If ESPN couldn't bundle SEC & Longhorn Network in with the rest of the Disney channels, who knows what their fates would be.
The question now is whether or not this wide reaching agreement between Disney and Dish is something of a turning point in the relationship between networks and providers. Will we see them begin to work together to find solutions for consumers along these lines, or will the Dish-Disney agreement merely be an isolated peace offering in an embattled television industry?