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Spectrum Cable Demands That Its Subscribers Fight the Battle With Disney Themselves

tv with rainbow lines and disney owned channels and content with help written in yellow
Credit: Disney/Canva

Florida governor Ron DeSantis and the state legislature will have to wait their turn for a while as Disney battles it out with yet another adversary–this time, a cable television network that is demanding its subscribers fight its war with Disney themselves.

On Thursday evening, millions of college football fans were getting ready to watch the first game of the 2023 NCAA College Football Season between the University of Florida and the University of Utah. Fans across the country gathered around their televisions or around tables at their favorite bars and restaurants where they planned to watch the game with friends, but nothing could have prepared them for what was to come when the clock struck 8:00 p.m.

Florida football predictions for Week 1 Utah clash

Credit: ClutchPoints

With no warning and no explanation, television screens across the country began to go dark. Not only did millions of college football fans miss the Florida-Utah match-up, but kids at home tuning into the Disney Channel to watch episodes of Kiff, Bluey, Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, or Big City Greens, as well as NatGeo junkies tuned into Disney’s National Geographic channel to see episodes of Life Below Zero and To Catch a Smuggler were instead treated to an episode of total darkness–an episode that is still playing on every Disney-owned channel–but only for Spectrum Cable customers.

rainbow lines on television screen

Credit: Canva

Disney’s Ugly, Strategic, Powerhouse Move

Moments after ESPN suddenly went dark, Spectrum Cable, owned by Charter Communications, revealed the responsible party. In an on-screen message on the ESPN Channel–and every other Disney-owned channel in the line-up–Spectrum laid the blame for the absentee content at Disney’s feet, saying:

“The Walt Disney Company, the owner of this channel, has removed their programming from Spectrum, which creates hardship for our customers. We apologize for the inconvenience and are continuing to negotiate in good faith in order to reach a fair agreement.”

espn charter communications spectrum channel message about disney screens blac

Credit: Spectrum/Canva

As in the battle between The Walt Disney Company and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that began in early 2022, the answer to the question, “Who started it–Disney or Spectrum?” depends upon who is asked.

Who Threw the First Punch?

It might be said that Disney started the battle with Spectrum. Negotiations between Disney and Charter Communications have been taking place in the background for a while now, and though both parties were well aware that no agreement had been reached, Spectrum and its subscribers were caught completely off-guard by Disney’s decision to pull the programming plug on Thursday evening.

But it might also be said that Spectrum threw the first punch. If the cable provider’s first priority is its customers, it makes sense that dealmakers would be extremely diligent in coming to some kind of agreement before the clock runs down. It’s unclear exactly when negotiations began, and it’s not known at this time if and when Spectrum’s prior agreement with Disney expired. If the parties’ previous deal had indeed expired, Disney only executed its right to pull the plug on programming that was being provided but for which payment had not been secured.

cell phone with spectrum logo and tv screen disney logo in background

Credit: Disney/Charter/Canva

Is Disney Playing Dirty?

It might be said that Disney doesn’t play fair–or that Disney isn’t playing nice. But in many cases involving Disney’s deal-making prowess–and specifically in the case with Spectrum/Charter Communications–Disney has the upper hand. The Mouse House owns the content that Spectrum and other providers want to offer to its subscribers. Though negotiations are part of any carriage agreement between cable or satellite TV providers and content providers,  the entertainment behemoth doesn’t need to play fair or play nice.

Disney’s content is sought after by virtually every cable TV provider, meaning Disney has the means to distribute its content outside of Spectrum. Even without cable providers, Disney has avenues of distribution, including the Disney+ streaming platform, the box office, and others.

disney castle with yellow disney logo

Credit: Disney

In the ongoing battle between the House of Mouse and Spectrum Cable, Disney holds the power–power that the entertainment behemoth displayed in the strategy it deployed on Thursday evening as millions were settling in for kick-off between Florida and Utah in the very first game of the college football season. If Disney’s decision to pull the plug on Spectrum was based solely on the date of August 31, 2023, it could have cut its content at 11:59 p.m. that night. But Disney intentionally chose 8:00 p.m. MT.

An Uglier Battle Than Anyone Realizes

Disney’s message to Spectrum could never have been made clearer than at the NCAA Game One kick-off time. Not only would the removal of content make Spectrum subscribers aware of the lack of agreement between the two, but it would enrage subscribers who have waited since last season for the 2023 College Football season to begin. The message was clear, it spread quickly, and Disney could even use the voices of angry subscribers to its advantage. Maybe.

Not to be outdone completely, however, Spectrum wasted no time posting a message to its subscribers, vilifying Disney for removing content subscribers wanted and trusted would be available to them. Spectrum accepted no fault in the debacle, telling customers that Charter Communications had already offered Disney “a fair deal,” but Disney wholly rejected it (maybe even with a villainous maniacal laugh in the background.)

Politician-Grade Mud-Slinging

And, in a one-two punch at Disney, Spectrum boldly set up a website aimed solely at blaming Disney and garnering support for its cause. At www.DisneyESPNFairDeal.com, angry subscribers who want their Disney content back are validated in their frustrations and assured that Spectrum “is on their side.” The site further encourages subscribers to share their frustrations directly with Disney:

“We ask for your patience as we continue to work out a deal that is fair for everyone,” a post on the website reads. “It’s easy to take action—send an email to their executives now!”

A link on the page takes subscribers to another page on which they can type their name and email address, with which a message is included that Spectrum “will send to Disney on your behalf.” The message reads:

I’m writing you to express my frustration and disappointment with your decision to pull your programming from my Spectrum channel lineup. Please restore my programming while you negotiate a fair deal.

Everything You Need to Know About Spectrum Services | Allconnect

Credit: Spectrum/AllConnect

If Disney’s playing dirty, then Spectrum is playing ugly. Not only is the cable TV provider controlling the message from its subscribers to Disney (there’s no room for customers to type a message in their own words), but while Spectrum promises loyalty to its customers against the evil titan Disney, the company simultaneously demands that subscribers fight Spectrum’s battle against Disney themselves. It’s clear that Charter Communications recognizes Disney’s dominance in the entertainment world

Spectrum–whether admittedly or otherwise–also recognizes that the absence of Disney-owned content and channels on Spectrum’s offerings line-up will be financially disastrous for Spectrum.

Cue the Statements and Responses (i.e., More Mud-Slinging)

Spectrum issued a statement early Friday, saying the company is “disappointed with The Walt Disney Company’s decision to remove their networks from our lineup.” Further, Spectrum says it would agree to a significant increase from Disney despite declining ratings: “Disney is trying to force our customers to pay for their very expensive programming, even those customers who don’t want it or worse, can’t afford it.”

How the Start of Disney Movies Will Be Different in 2023 •

Credit: Disney

In response, Disney issued the following statement:

“Charter has refused to enter into a new agreement with us that reflects market-based terms. Contrary to their claims, we have offered Charter the most favorable terms on rates, distribution, packaging, advertising, and more. We have proposed creative ways to make Disney’s direct-to-consumer services available to their Spectrum TV subscribers, including opportunities for new and flexible packages where those services become a focal point of what the consumer might choose.

Although Charter claims to value our direct-to-consumer services, they are demanding these services for free, as they have stated publicly. Charter is depriving consumers of that content because they are failing to ascribe any value in exchange for licensing those services. Our linear channels and direct-to-consumer services are not one and the same, per Charter’s assertions, but rather complementary products. We continue to invest in original content that premieres exclusively on our linear networks, including live sports, news, and appointment-viewing programming.

Likewise, on our direct-to-consumer services, we make multi-billion-dollar investments in exclusive content, which is incremental to our linear networks. We offered Charter an extension in the negotiations to keep our networks up and they declined in the middle of programming that is important to their subscribers.”

There Can Be Only One Winner, and It’s Not Disney or Spectrum

At the end of the day (or the Disney vs. Spectrum war), there can be only one winner. And it won’t be Disney or Charter Communications. For all their power, the two companies won’t be the ones who ultimately decide the outcome of this debacle. It will be the 14.7 million affected customers who either decide to stick with Spectrum and wait for the return of Disney’s content or abandon Spectrum altogether, opting instead to subscribe to another cable provider.

The war is still raging and may even be in its infancy, as no further negotiations between Disney and Spectrum have taken place, and the screens of nearly 15 million subscribers are blank when the channel selected is owned by Disney. Regardless of the outcome, the current ongoing battle between the content provider and the cable provider is an ugly one, and it’s getting uglier as time goes on.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!