After a 12-day blackout, a lot of heated rhetoric on both sides, and a lot of frustrated customers, Disney and Charter Communications have struck a deal. That deal will restore Disney channels, including ESPN and ABC, to customers of Charter’s Spectrum cable service. Spectrum had nearly 15 million customers before this carriage dispute, more than a fifth of the estimated 71 million homes ESPN was in in August, so this is a huge move for both sides. Joe Flint of The Wall Street Journal broke that news Monday:
Breaking: Disney and Charter reached a deal that will restore ESPN and other channels to nearly 15 million subscribers. It ends a blackout that lasted over a week. https://t.co/khdK69x3CE
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) September 11, 2023
That came after some other reports that a deal was close:
— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) September 11, 2023
There are scant details out yet on the deal, beyond that it includes ESPN and ABC. And the details will matter, as Charter from their side said they would only agree to Disney’s proposed per-subscriber rate hikes if Disney threw in free subscriptions to their direct-to-consumer services (Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+).
Charter billed that as a “glide path” forward to address a “broken” system where multichannel video programming distributors were hurt by programmers moving content to over-the-top subscription services, and particularly cited concerns about Disney’s plan to offer full linear ESPN DTC beginning in 2025 or 2026. (Meanwhile, Disney has pushed back with viewership claims on their linear programming, comments from their personalities, and other discussions about the value of their OTT services.) So it will be notable to see if this is a short-term deal that ends before that ESPN linear OTT launch, or if there’s any provision around current and future streaming services in this deal. There is one report of it involving at least reduced-cost access to at least Disney+:
— Julia Boorstin (@JBoorstin) September 11, 2023
Beyond that, a Charter-Disney deal may have major impacts for other programmers and MVPDs. The dispute here was widely seen as highly important for other media companies, and for the future of sports television and the linear cable bundle. And the terms of whatever deal was reached here will certainly matter well beyond these companies. But for now, those who still subscribe to Charter will be able to get ESPN again, just in time for Monday Night Football‘s season debut.