In early September 2023, millions of Spectrum customers turned on their TVs and discovered that some channels, including ABC and ESPN, were suddenly missing from their television lineup.
The reason for the blackout? A contract dispute between two giants in the entertainment and communications industries: Disney and Spectrum.
Though the quarreling has abated, and the blackout is now over, millions of viewers remain uneasy about the dispute and its impact on their lives—especially football fans, some of whom lost ESPN access right in the middle of watching a game! And many are wondering what, if anything, they can do to give themselves more agency to prevent such a dispute from disrupting their lives.
Below we briefly explain the dispute between Disney and Spectrum. We also discuss how switching to streaming television by utilizing FPUAnet Communications’ high-speed fiber network can help viewers avoid losing their favorite shows in the next corporate clash.
The Combatants: Spectrum vs. Disney
Let’s begin with the players in the dispute. Spectrum, owned by Charter Communications, is one of the biggest cable television providers in America.
Disney, which controls far more than just Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and a host of other beloved Disney characters, is a media powerhouse. The brand owns ABC and ESPN, as well as FX and many other television channels. That means Disney is ultimately responsible for some of the biggest, most profitable brands and titles in all of entertainment and sports, including Monday Night Football.
And when the two couldn’t come to an agreement on their contract, it looked like no one would win—especially television viewers.
What Caused the Disney-Spectrum Dispute?
Contract negotiations are usually dull affairs, even when the stakes are high. But the Disney-Spectrum dispute was different, and not just because millions of people lost their content. At the heart of the dispute is what every cable provider must pay annually to provide their customers with channels: carriage fees.
Carriage fees are paid by cable companies to the content producers—in this case, Disney, and its ABC, ESPN, FX, National Geographic and other affiliates. Disney was demanding a higher carriage fee than Spectrum was willing to pay.
When neither company was willing to bend, Spectrum lost the ability to bring those channels to its customers, leading to a blackout for customers across 41 states.
The outrage was immediate, as viewers and fans realized they were blocked out of content they’d been waiting for all year, especially major sports events and tournaments. “College football season is just starting—where are the games?” “What happened to the U.S. Open?” “What about Monday Night Football?”
And the anger wasn’t just limited to living rooms at home. Sports bars and other restaurants contended with furious customers, who had planned to watch marquee matchups live and amongst a lively crowd, just as they always had, before realizing they couldn’t, thanks to the corporate squabbling.
In the end, after more than 10 days, the two sides had a “meeting of the minds,” and settled their dispute. ABC, ESPN, FX, National Geographic, and the other Disney-owned channels returned to Spectrum cable channel lineups. But cable viewers have not forgotten. And cable may not be quite the same again.
The Rise of Streaming
The ten-day blackout may be over, but the core issue extends beyond just these two companies and their dispute. With the rise of streaming TV platforms and services, which give more power to consumers to choose the kinds of content they actually want to pay for and view, cable companies and their longstanding tradition of “channel bundling” are facing a reckoning.
Cable’s channel bundling and its inherent inefficiencies are symptomatic of a broader problem in the cable television industry. These days, cable packages are just too bloated—and too expensive—for most customers. And those customers now have the option to stream TV, which gives them much more control over their content choices and their home entertainment budget at the same time.
Understanding, that customers are jumping ship and leaving cable behind. Indeed, according to some market analysts, five million people end their cable subscriptions every year as they make the switch to streaming services.
Streaming Gives Consumers More Control
One popular misunderstanding is that cutting the cord means you’ll only have access to on-demand content (like Netflix). But streaming actually allows you to subscribe to services that give you just about any television content you want—including live TV.
That means you can enjoy live sports action, breaking news and analysis, network comedies, prestige dramas, documentaries, lifestyle-themed shows, and almost everything else you liked with cable. And you’re far less dependent on the whims and market maneuverings of a massive company and its team of legal eagles to make decisions that cut you off from your favorite programming.
If nothing else, the Disney-Spectrum debacle should remind consumers of two radically different but interconnected realities: their utter powerlessness in carriage fee disputes as a cable customer, and their power to bypass those shenanigans through the freedom of streaming TV.
And with the reliability and pristine picture quality fiber internet from FPUAnet Communications delivers, consumers can feel in control of their home entertainment once they cut the cable cord and switch to streaming.
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