ESPN and Disney are involved in an increasingly ugly cable dispute with distributor Altice, and time is running out before the Sept. 30 deadline to get a deal done.

Customers largely in the northeast would be affected if the distributor were to drop ESPN, leading one to wonder whether or not it was just a coincidence that ESPN’s College GameDay originated from the heart of New York City last weekend and not the traditional college campus. A factor in the dispute is ESPN’s litany of college-based channels and the lack of widespread college football fandom throughout the northeast.

It’s no secret that ESPN has been swimming upstream with the market in relation to cord cutting and rising costs leading to a downturn in subscribers. And unfortunately for Bristol, Altice and its cable brand Optimum are using those negative headlines against ESPN.

In this 30-second spot, the distributor runs a plain ad that features nothing but negative headlines about ESPN business as of late. The message at the end tells customers that they will only pay a fair price for networks which are then passed on to consumers. It’s a brutally harsh ad that is not going to make coming to an agreement any easier.

Don’t worry, ESPN has thrown their share of barbs in this fight too. Here’s a Disney corporate statement hitting back, via USA Today:

Disney had its own harsh words for Altice. “The typical Optimum customer pays $160 or more each month for service to Altice, and the bulk of that money goes into their pocket,” the company said in a statement. “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.”

In the past, ESPN has usually been able to get deals done with distributors because it’s one of the most popular cable channels available. The pure demand has traditionally outweighed any other factor. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of college football, you’d still miss Monday Night Football, college basketball, the NBA, and pretty much everything else in the sports world without ESPN. Bristol has always, always, always had the ultimate leverage here. A cable lineup without ESPN isn’t really much of a cable lineup at all.

But now? Now things just might be different. The industry trends are working against traditional cable and if customers are dropping their subscriptions in part because of the rising fees of channels like ESPN, then suddenly the cable companies have a lot more leverage than they used to. It’s why cheaper non-sports bundles are gradually becoming an option for consumers.

The impact of what happens in this dispute goes beyond the northeast as well. In fact, one could argue that this deal is even more important for the deals ESPN will make in the future with other major distributors. ESPN will want to try to play hardball because giving in now could set a trend moving forward with other companies and tell them that they aren’t in as strong of a position as they once were.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

  • dishnet34

    So, do you think this could be the negotiation to begin the bursting of the Live Sports Bubble?

    • ✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

      There is no such “right”. If you like a particular type of entertainment, ANY type. Expect to pay for it in some fashion. My Dad predicted in the 1960’s that “free” sports on TV would end some day.

      Then when we have to pay, we will be much better consumers.

      • PAI

        We do pay, it’s called sitting thru commercials.

        • ✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

          That’s one business model, and it is getting unsustainable given salaries and the cost to obrain broadcast rights. When it’s economically unfeasible, or when they find they will get fools to pay and increase their revenue stream, they will go there. “Free TV” fans will find themselves relegated to lower level college sports (which, in reality, is minor league FB & BB) and other things. So what? It’s all made up anyway, not one thing realin life hinges on those games, we convince ourselves it is important. It’s not.

          Again, there is no “right” to “Live Sports” or in fact, much of anything else. Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness and the rights enshrined in the Constitution. That’s it. Everything else is just a wish.

      • Mark Anderson

        I think you missed the meaning of “rights: in his comment. He was referring to TV stations purchasing the broadcast rights of live sporting events. ESPN way overpaid for their most recent rights contract, and a lot less people are watching NFL these days. Therefore, the bubble is about to burst on the price the NFL/NBA can charge to buy their live sporting events rights. They are not talking about your “right” to watch TV.

        • ✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

          No, I had his meaning exactly. He claimed a “right” to receive “free” sports viewing on broadcast TV. See also his reply below. He is talking about “free” broadcasts on broadcast TV, and probably even means on cable as well. You have to work awful hard to interpret “LiveSportsRights” any other way. No such right. If that business model implodes, we will all pay for what we want to watch, but we will pay. Might it survive in some form? Sure. Probably less marquee leagues and matchups.

          People with better priorities in life will drop out, and so those that want sports will start to pay more and more. Probably likely as well, players salaries are at or near a high water mark. The folks on Friends set the record 20 years ago at a Mil per actor per episode. That model imploded and actors and studios are putting out exceptional TV shows with the cast earning peanuts compared. There will be no shortage of guys willing to dunk a ball and get laid at even 1/10 of what they are paying now.

          • eddy

            No he didn’t. He meant the legal right to distribute the content. You are trying to comment on an issue you have very little understanding about. Channels like ESPN and FOX buy the right to show content from leagues. Without those legal rights to show they can be taken to court because they are essentially doing what pirates or illegal streamers are doing. How you could take his comment and think “free sports” being a right like freedom or speech is bonkers to me.

          • ✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

            Nonsense. He was not arguing from the distributor point of view, he was arguing from the consumers point of view regarding some sort of “Live Sports Rights.” There is no such “right”, and he admits as such with no response.

            As for “on an issue you have very little understanding about”, that is how 5 year olds and SJW’s debate. Don’t be a douche.

  • ✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

    Cut the cord. Pick up a book. Take your wife out. Go outside & play with you kid. Call your mom. Let the whole world of “spectator sport” come crashing down.It’s unhealthy, unsustainable, and foolish anyway.

  • tmc

    Please, do take away ESPN and its liberal rhetoric garbage. Ever since they put the whiny two betches on its flagship program Sports Center, it has been simply awful. The ratings slide are undeniable proof. Take it off and close the doors; Fox and CBS sports blow it away.

  • Shawn Diiorio

    Optimum are scum, they are horrible, my family were customers for a long time and were treated like crap, they don’t care about you, just about trying to get new customers, switched to Verizon Fios, will never go back.

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