If you’re an Optimum TV customer, you may have noticed a new warning crawling across the bottom of your screen in the last few days: They may lose access to several big-name channels, including ESPN and ABC, because of an ongoing contract dispute between Optimum parent company and Disney.
In warnings being blasted out to Optimum subscribers, Disney says it has a “responsibility” to inform viewers that because the company’s contract with Altice — the fourth biggest cable distributor in the country — is set to expire on Sept. 30, they may lose programming if the two sides can’t come to terms.
“We remain fully committed to reaching a deal and are hopeful we can do so,” Disney said in a statement. “Our company has never had a disruption of service for our family of networks and there is no reason that should change now.”
Altice claims in a message to Optimum customers — located mostly in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania — that Disney demanding “outrageous fee increases” for its channels, claiming that ESPN has spent “billions of dollars to air live sports, and they are trying to recoup that money by charging our customer’s more.”
Despite the fact that Disney is experiencing revenue and ratings declines, Altice claims, “the company is trying to boost its balance sheet by forcing Optimum and its customers to pay more for the same content they already receive.”
Altice says in a statement that it wants to carry ESPN, ABC, and Disney at a “reasonable rate” and that it’s already offered to pay more in retransmission fees and sports programming costs. But the company claims that Disney is demanding double the rates for ABC, “exorbitant” feee increases for ESPN, “and are trying to force customers who don’t receive ESPN to have to pay for it.”
Disney has refuted those claims, saying that Altice charges its customers $34 for broadcast basic, “which is which is more than 15 times the amount we are seeking for the market’s most watched station, WABC.”
When cable companies and entertainment groups clash over contracts, blackouts are common. But as Reuters notes, this is the first time a cable company has resisted increased fees for ESPN.
Back in 2013, Dish customers were facing a potential blackout of Disney channels, but the two companies were able to come to a last-minute agreement.