Disney, Dish In Handshake Deal to End Blackout of ESPN, Other Networks

North Carolina State vs. Clemson
The dispute with Disney cost Dish and Sling subs the Saturday slate of ABC college football games, including primetime's North Carolina State-Clemson matchup. (Image credit: Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

The Walt Disney Co. said it had reached a “handshake agreement” with Dish Network, ending a blackout of Disney programming that started early Saturday morning.

“We have reached a handshake agreement with Dish/Sling TV, which properly reflects fair-market value and terms for The Walt Disney Company’s unparalleled content,“ Disney said in a statement. ”As a result, we are pleased to restore our portfolio of networks on a temporary basis while both parties work to finalize a new deal.”

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Dish had complained Disney was seeking to increase the amount it pays for the media company’s programming by nearly $1 billion. Disney’s ESPN alone carries the highest carriage fee among cable networks, at more than $8 per subscriber per month.

The blackout came at a tough time for Dish: the middle of football season. Fans weren't able to see college games on Saturday on ESPN and faced the prospect of losing Monday Night Football until the agreement was reached. 

Also: ESPN Takedown on Dish and Sling TV Stirs Football Fan Revolt

Dish has been shedding customers who consider themselves sports fans by no longer carrying regional sports networks, another expensive programming source. It currently offers some packages that do not include ESPN and ESPN2, but said Disney was looking to force customers with those packages to pay for ESPN. 

The strength of ESPN and its football offerings appears to have played a part in the quick resolution of this heavyweight distribution battle. In a recent survey, more cable customers called ESPN a “must-have” channel than any other network.

In addition to ESPN, the channels affected by the blackout were the ABC Owned Television Stations in eight markets, the Disney-branded channels, Freeform, the FX networks, the National Geographic channels and BabyTV.

Dish is no stranger to carriage disputes. This week it ended a three-week blackout with Game Show Network.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.