More Strife for Disney - Cable Dispute Costs Them Millions Daily as Channels Go Dark

It is almost as if the global conglomerate cannot catch a break! It seems a regular case these days when news comes out that is bad for the Disney Corporation. Whether it is movies tanking, streaming losses, theme parks seeing a loss of traffic, or any other news breaking, wherever the company might turn, there is a business problem emerging. Now we see on the cable television side, there is a new dose of anxiety.


Television involving Disney is already a dismal medium for the company, as cord-cutting has become not only a real issue but a problem that is accelerating. Ratings for cable have been eroding, and as far as the broadcast networks are concerned, it is closer to an avalanche. About the only exception that delivers favorable results is in sports programming, and even that has been a less-than-stellar sector for Disney. Its ESPN property has been enduring similar stresses to those experienced by the parent company. Massive layoffs of named talent have been the main story this year.

And now things are only worsening. This week saw the familiar news item of a carriage dispute rear up, this time involving Disney and its various cable offerings and the cable provider Spectrum. Unable to come to a viable agreement, beginning this month, Spectrum removed all of the Disney-owned networks from its channel packages. This would involve staples like The Disney Channel, the FX Networks, Free Form, and others. But the most notable on that list is ESPN.

The timing could not have been worse. ESPN went dark on the Spectrum accounts on the very weekend college football began, and just one week ahead of the launch of the NFL season. Also taking place currently is the U.S. Open tennis championship, covered by ESPN. What we are looking at is a cable provider struggling to stay viable and an entertainment juggernaut looking to keep its diminishing returns on television from getting worse. It is a lose/lose scenario, with both sides striving to minimize those losses.


This is a dicey proposition for Spectrum, as it runs the very real risk of alienating customers further and seeing more flee to streaming platforms to get their sports delivered. It is also a needed move, as the elevated costs of carriage fees in the face of a shrinking customer base are basically forcing their hand. Disney, meanwhile, is in no better position, aside from being large enough to absorb a hit. The question that hovers is: just how long can it do so?

The impact on Disney is very real, as this Spectrum blackout concerns just north of 14 million paid accounts. Factoring in those carriage fees means that just in the case of ESPN, Disney is looking at more than $125 million in losses per month. Roll in the revenue from all of the other channels in the portfolio, and that impact deepens. Then there is the impact the loss of those viewers will have on ratings and advertising revenue, and Disney is awash in red ink.

In all likelihood, an agreement will be forthcoming, but there are signs this could linger longer than in past examples where a resolution was reached within a brief window of time. Disney is urging those customers going without these channels to seek out its Hulu streaming service as a solution. There is probably a formula being drawn up in Disney headquarters to measure how many are choosing that option — or others — and determine what the mitigating threshold would be in deciding what to settle on with Spectrum. If a compensatory amount is realized, the company might simply shrug its collective shoulders and walk away from the cable provider.


At best, these would be customers who make a sideways decision, and Disney reaches a break-even point. But of course, the real risk is that a significant number simply choose to just walk away. That will then become a true lose/lose result for both entities involved.


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