Disney and Spectrum have finally come to a compromise, solidifying a carrier agreement and making subscribers happy again. But CEO Bob Iger’s double-speak about the deal has some investors and fans scratching their heads.
On Monday morning, the stand-off between The Walt Disney Company and Charter Communications, the parent company of Spectrum Cable, finally came to a peaceful end when a carrier agreement with which both parties are content was signed. The move comes more than ten days after Disney pulled its content from Spectrum’s cable channel line-up just before kick-off during the first game of the 2023 NCAA College Football season, which was broadcast on ESPN.
Subscribers who were tuned in to the Disney-owned sports network, as well as other channels like Disney XD, Disney Junior, National Geographic Channel, FX, and Freeform on Thursday evening, August 31, were met with empty screens as Disney blocked all of its content following unsuccessful negotiation attempts between the House of Mouse and Spectrum were unsuccessful.
The Fallout and the Feud
Nearly immediately, Disney found itself embroiled in yet another feud–one that saw Spectrum using the dark screens on subscribers’ televisions to blast Disney for its refusal to accept a “fair deal” the cable provider had allegedly proposed and to call on subscribers to step up and fight the battle against Disney themselves.
Not to be outdone, Disney took to its website to give the company’s take on the events that led to the decision to pull the plug on its channels and to push Hulu + Live TV for Spectrum subscribers who wanted their content back. Days later, Disney dropped the monthly subscription fee for its streaming service by more than 75%, monetizing the continuing cable TV wars–fires that had been re-fueled by the Disney-Charter debate.
Disney CEO Talks Deal Specifics and Backtracks on a Huge Issue
On Monday morning, just hours before the NFL’s first Monday Night Football event, Disney and Charter reached an agreement, restoring 19 Disney-owned channels to 14.7 million subscribers across the country.
Disney said that the deal would allow most of its ESPN customers to access Spectrum’s system instantly. Part of the deal also calls for Disney’s ad-supported streaming service and ESPN+ to be offered to select Spectrum customers. ESPN’s direct-to-consumer service, which is still in the works as of the time of this publication, will be available to Spectrum cable subscribers as well.
“Our collective goal has always been to build an innovative model for the future,” said Disney CEO Robert Iger and Charter CEO Chris Winfrey in a joint statement.
But Iger’s comments about linear television have some scratching their heads, as the seasoned chief seemed to backtrack on his feelings about the value and necessity of linear television.
On July 13, during an interview with CNBC, Iger said that Disney’s linear television business “may not be core” to the company. He also shared that initiatives were being taken to determine Disney’s best options for the business.
Iger said the company is looking at a range of strategic options for linear TV, including with ESPN, though he asserted that sports “stands tall” when compared with the rest of the TV landscape. Disney, which has recently positioned ESPN as its own corporate division, plans to roll out a direct-to-consumer ESPN streaming offering in the next couple of years, though Iger declined to offer any specific timeline.
Days later, in a move that Bloomberg hailed as a “Disney yard sale,” Iger called for the listing of one-third of the company’s linear TV intellectual properties for sale, seemingly underscoring his beliefs about their lack of value for Disney at this time. Among the items on the fold-up tables at the proverbial yard sale are some of Disney’s linear television assets, which Iger has deemed non-core, or not exactly essential, to Disney’s overall success and growth. Those include Disney television networks, such as ABC, FX, and Freeform.
In his statement about the newly-reached carrier agreement between Disney and Spectrum, however, CEO Bob Iger appeared to backtrack on his previous sentiments about the subject, touting linear TV’s value, saying in part, “This deal recognizes both the continued value of linear television and the growing popularity of streaming services while addressing the evolving needs of our customers.”