One of the three big holdouts to the ACC Network will now carry the new channel. That would be Charter/Spectrum, which has about 16 million households as per a July report by David Glenn of The Athletic. While there are still no announced deals with Comcast (21 million households) or Dish (10 million households), or other providers like Cox (4 million, many in ACC territory) or U-verse (3 to 4 million), Charter coming on board means that at least 36 million households can now conceivably access ACC Network (we don’t know tier details yet, so this may not mean that all Charter subscribers get ACCN, but there’s now at least an option for them to have it).
As per Alex Sherman of CNBC, Charter has struck a wider multi-year carriage deal with Disney that will include ACCN:
Charter and Disney have reached a multiyear carriage agreement, avoiding a blackout of networks including ESPN and ABC, according to people familiar with the matter.
Charter has agreed to carry the ACC Network, a new network in the ESPN family, as part of the deal, the people said, who asked not to be named because the agreement hasn’t been announced yet.
Charter is also planning to integrate ESPN+, Hulu and Disney+ into its set-top boxes to give pay-TV subscribers more seamless access to that programming, assuming they’re also subscribers to the Disney streaming services, according to people familiar with the matter.
Glenn’s July report said that ACCN had 20 million-plus estimated subscribers at that point, and that it was expected to be in the 30-50 million subscriber range by launch. If this deal does come with the majority of Charter households, the network has now cleared the low end of that, and if they’re closer to the 36 million mark, that would put them at almost double the eight-year-old Pac-12 Networks (19 million as per Glenn’s piece). That’s still a ways behind the estimates for SEC Network (59 million) and Big Ten Network (55 million), but it seems quite good for a new network’s launch, especially in a 2019 environment that’s seeing lots of pushback towards specialty sports channels.
There still are some challenges ahead for ACC Network, of course, and the lack of Comcast carriage in particular is a big one. That means there are plenty of areas in the network footprint where there’s no cable option to watch ACCN, including Florida State’s home city of Tallahassee. But Charter signing on may put some pressure on the likes of Comcast and Dish to follow suit. It’s also interesting to see Charter integrate those Disney streaming services into its boxes; that should make access to those easier (no separate streaming hardware required), and it might help boost the profile of those services.
It’s also notable that this comes as part of a larger deal that includes carriage of Disney’s other networks; that kind of leverage is often key to getting deals like this done (which again illustrates the problem with the Pac-12’s decision to go it alone, both at first and then also with later offers). It’s also part of why this network launch is happening now, at a time when Disney has some other carriage deals expiring and can use them as leverage. (However, that won’t work with Comcast, as they signed a 10-year carriage deal with that provider in 2012.)
While there was plenty of deserved skepticism about how well launching a new linear league network would go in 2019 and if ESPN would actually do it, that move’s now looking better than it was considering this kind of pre-launch carriage. Launching with 30+ million subscribers wouldn’t be bad at all, especially if the network’s able to build on that later. (And the stacked early football lineup may also help there.) We’ll see if Disney can add further ACC Network holdouts by launch or shortly thereafter, but getting Charter on board is a big step, and one that should significantly boost ACCN’s subscriber count.