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The kickoff to the NFL season is Thursday night, and Charter Communications doesn’t appear to be moving down the field in its negotiations with Disney.
Last week, Charter and Disney’s talks over contract fees spilled into the public when the two were unable to reach an agreement and millions of consumers across the U.S. saw Disney-owned networks like ESPN and FX go dark.
On Thursday, Charter CEO Chris Winfrey said that “Disney will be who decides” what happens in the dispute.
“Sitting here today, if I had anything material to highlight I would, so that should tell you something on how we’re doing,” Winfrey said at the Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia and Technology conference, regarding the state of the negotiations as the beginning of the NFL season nears. He added both companies feel a sense of urgency to resolve this quickly.
Disney’s latest statement also indicated that the stalemate persists.
“It’s unfortunate that Charter decided to abandon their consumers by denying them access to our great programming,” Disney said Thursday. “The question for Charter is clear: Do you care about your subscribers and what they’re telling you they want – or not? Disney stands ready to resolve this dispute and do what’s in the best interest of Charter’s customers.”
Disney added that Charter, one of the biggest pay-TV providers in the U.S., has rejected multiple offers to extend negotiations before the blackout on Aug. 31.
Adding to the pressure is the kickoff of the NFL season – with ESPN’s first “Monday Night Football” game of the season occurring in a few days – as well as the U.S. Open and beginning of college football season.
Carriage fights and blackouts are not uncommon in the industry. But Charter’s proclamation about the pay-TV model and push for programmers like Disney to make their streaming services available to cable customers at no additional cost has sent shockwaves through an industry grappling with cord-cutting as streaming remains an unprofitable business.
But in a rare move, Winfrey and Charter executives held an investor call the day after Disney channels went dark for its customers. Charter executives said they pushed for a revamped deal with Disney that would see Charter’s Spectrum cable customers receive access to Disney’s ad-supported streaming services Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu at no additional cost.
This seems to be the sticking point in negotiations. Charter said it was willing to pay the increase requested by Disney.
Winfrey said Thursday a big issue with content companies like Disney has been that they are focused on streaming “as if it’s a completely separate business,” when much of companies’ cash flow stems from the traditional pay-TV bundle.
Last week, Winfrey put the media industry on notice when he said the pay-TV model is broken and needs to change in order to survive.
Disney has shot back, saying Charter refused to enter into a deal after it offered favorable terms, without elaborating on specifics. The company also added that its traditional TV networks and streaming services aren’t the same and therefore shouldn’t be offered for free to cable TV customers.
Live sports have continued to garner the highest ratings and considered to be the glue holding the pay-TV bundle together.
Meanwhile, Disney has pushed for Charter’s customers to sign up for alternative internet-TV bundles like its own Hulu +Live TV, as well as competitors like Fubo or YouTube TV.
“Disney deeply values its relationship with its viewers and is hopeful Charter is ready to have more conversations that will restore access to its content to Spectrum customers as quickly as possible,” Disney said in a statement over the weekend. “However, if you are one of these frustrated customers, it can be infuriating to not be able to access the content you want.”
Since the dispute began late last Thursday, Hulu + Live TV sign-ups are more than 60% higher than expected, a Disney Entertainment spokesperson said.