Disney Warns Altice Talks Could Stall

The Walt Disney Co. warned Altice USA customers in the New York and New Jersey areas that they could lose access to networks like ESPN, Disney Channel and the ABC broadcast network if it fails to reach a carriage agreement with with cable operator.

Altice USA and Disney have been in talks for weeks concerning carriage of the channels. While the deal officially expires at the end of the month, reports have said that the discussions are heated, with Disney asking for hefty fee increases and carriage of additional networks.

Disney has basically remained silent through the speculation, but later Friday made public its concerns that a deal may not be reached.

"Our contract with Altice is due to expire soon, so we have a responsibility to make our viewers aware of the potential loss of our programming," Disney said in a statement. "We remain fully committed to reaching a deal and are hopeful we can do so. Our company has never had a disruption of service for our family of networks and there is no reason that should change now."

Altice USA said it continues to work with Disney, but will not bow to what it perceived as threats.

"We are always working hard to negotiate carriage agreements that reflect the best interest of all our customers," Altice USA said in a statement. "We want to carry ESPN and its sister networks, including ABC and Disney, at a reasonable rate and have already offered an increase in retransmission fees and sports programming costs. Yet, despite the fact that viewership of their programming by Optimum customers has been declining in the double digits for years, ESPN and its owner are demanding double the rates for ABC for the same content they offer today, exorbitant fee increases for ESPN, and are trying to force customers who don’t receive ESPN to have to pay for it.

"Skyrocketing programming costs, particularly those charged by broadcasters and sports networks, are the greatest contributor to rising cable bills, and ESPN is already the most expensive basic cable channel in history," the cable operator continued. "This behavior by ESPN is anti-consumer, and we urge ESPN and its owner to stop the threats, leave their programming on for customers and focus on negotiating an agreement that is fair for our Optimum customers.”

A Disney/ABC spokesperson noted that customers of Altice USA's Optimum service in the New York and New Jersey areas are no strangers to high costs.
“The typical Optimum customer pays $160 or more each month for service to Altice, and the bulk of that money goes into their pocket," the spokesperson said in a statement. "For broadcast basic, Altice charges its customers $34 which is more than 15x the amount we are seeking for the market’s most watched station, WABC.”