Disney Plays Hardball in Cable Talks With Altice

Disney Plays Hardball in Cable Talks With Altice

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The headquarters of Cablevision in Bethpage, N.Y., in 2015. The company has since been sold to Altice, which is in a dispute with Disney over network carriage rights.

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Seth Wenig/Associated Press

A festering contract dispute between Disney and the nation’s fourth-largest cable distributor broke into public view on Friday night, with Disney warning ESPN and ABC viewers in New York City’s suburbs that those channels could go dark as soon as Oct. 1 if no deal is reached.

In response, the cable distributor, Altice USA, which has millions of customers on Long Island and in New Jersey and Connecticut, released a blistering statement accusing Disney of making “outrageous” pricing demands. “Stop the threats,” the statement said. “Focus on negotiating an agreement that is fair.”

Disney then fired back. In a statement of its own, Disney took issue with Altice’s characterization of its pricing requests — particularly regarding ABC — and painted the cable distributor as greedy.

Ratings have tumbled for the ESPN program “SportsCenter,” as more fans get game highlights online.

Credit
Rich Arden/ESPN Images

At issue is how much Altice pays for the right to distribute Disney-owned channels, which include ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, Freeform, Disney Channel and Disney XD. The Walt Disney Company and Altice, which is owned by a European conglomerate, have been negotiating for months with little progress. Disney is seeking price increases that amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, analysts say.

Spats of this sort are not unusual. In 2010, Disney and Cablevision — since acquired by Altice — sparred in a similar manner; a new contract materialized only after Disney temporarily pulled ABC from Cablevision customers in the New York area. During that dispute, Disney told viewers in commercials to email Cablevision and say, “Lose my shows, lose my business!”

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