The recent carriage dispute between Walt Disney Co. and Charter Spectrum highlights the evolving landscape of the pay TV business. As linear bundled offerings undergo significant changes, both distributors and entertainment companies, like Disney, are finding the need to be creative and flexible in order to strike deals. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Dana Walden, co-chairman of Disney Entertainment, and Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN, shed light on what the Spectrum deal means for their respective divisions and the future of streaming.
Walden emphasizes the importance of remaining flexible and agile in the face of rapidly changing models and technology. The Disney-Spectrum deal reflects this mindset, with the basic tier of Disney+ now included at no extra charge for Spectrum Select TV subscribers. Additionally, ESPN+ will be added to a new tier of TV service catering to sports fans. This move demonstrates Disney’s commitment to adapting to consumer demands and evolving distribution methods.
However, being flexible also requires making trade-offs. In this deal, Disney had to give up some of its cable channels, including Freeform, FXX, Disney Junior, and Nat Geo Wild, which will no longer be offered on Spectrum. Walden explains that the decision was based on identifying the greatest value for Disney in the deal. The digital networks, while targeted and serving specific audiences, also have content that is windowed onto Disney’s primary channels and streaming platforms. Disney intends to maintain channels that are valuable in the distribution ecosystem while ensuring a solid pipeline of programming to Hulu or Disney+.
Disney’s primary focus remains on its core entertainment brands and streaming ambitions. The company aims to protect its primary entertainment channels, which are crucial to its bottom line and the pipeline of family and general entertainment content to its direct-to-consumer (DTC) services. Meanwhile, ESPN is prioritizing its flagship direct-to-consumer offering, ESPN+, as it explores its own future in the streaming landscape.
As part of the Spectrum deal, ESPN+ will be included in the Select Plus TV offering, a sports-centric tier that Spectrum plans to roll out in the coming months. This move aligns with Disney’s broader strategy of bringing flagship ESPN networks to streaming platforms, emphasizing the growing importance of direct-to-consumer offerings for ESPN.
The Disney-Spectrum deal signifies a significant shift in the pay TV industry, highlighting the need for flexibility and creativity in striking agreements. By focusing on core entertainment brands and streaming ambitions, Disney is adapting to the changing demands of consumers and the evolving distribution landscape. As ESPN explores its own streaming future, the inclusion of ESPN+ in the Spectrum deal underscores the company’s commitment to prioritizing direct-to-consumer offerings. The pay TV business continues to undergo transformation, and companies must navigate these changes to remain competitive in the evolving media landscape.