After weeks of intense negotiations and some spirited public jousting, Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Cable have hashed out a new carriage agreement covering a roster of high-profile networks that includes ABC, ESPN and Disney Channel.
While financial details were not disclosed, it is believed that Disney was able to secure retransmission consent fees for ABC that were roughly in line with the 50 cents per sub per month that CBS has commanded in its own renewals.
The Mouse also landed increases between 5 percent and 10 percent for Disney Channel and ABC Family. By that reckoning, Time Warner has agreed to pay between 93 and 98 cents per sub per month to carry Disney Channel and around 23 cents for ABC Family.
While the two companies made separate public appeals in the weeks leading up to the deal, the dialogue was not nearly as rancorous as that which has surrounded other recent operator-programmer squabbles. In coming to terms, both sides avoided a blackout that would have affected some 13 million Time Warner Cable subs nationwide.
As part of the long-term deal, ESPN3.com earned itself a major distribution boost.
The digital network, formerly branded ESPN360.com, is now available in New York City, Los Angeles and several other markets, per the terms of the new carriage deal. In addition to Time Warner, ESPN3 is also now available to Bright House Networks’ 2.4 million cable customers.
Eventually, Time Warner and Bright House subs will be able to access linear networks ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU via the Internet and on mobile devices like the iPad, officials said.
Also factored into the deal: carriage of the nascent non-ad-supported preschooler net Disney Junior, which is set to supplant SoapNet in 2012.
“The successful conclusion of this wide-ranging deal demonstrates our commitment to our distribution partners and our ability to work with them to provide consumers with an unmatched portfolio of national and local entertainment, news and sports content while continuing to strengthen both of our businesses,” said co-chairs of Disney Media Networks George Bodenheimer and Anne Sweeney, by way of announcing the agreement.
Time Warner Cable president and CEO Glenn Britt added that the operator is “pleased to have reached an agreement without any interruption in service,” before going on to thank customers for their support.
Ironically, the peaceful resolution of the TWC-Disney pact engendered some sparring between rival trade organizations. Also weighing in Friday was the National Association of Broadcasters, which released a statement suggesting that the successful resolution was further proof that pay-TV providers are misguided in lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to take an active role in mediating the retrans/carriage negotiation process.
“Thousands of retransmission consent agreements have been reached over the years, and this is just one more successful negotiation that serves to rebuke the pay-TV campaigners who seek a solution to a non-existent problem,” said NAB executive vp of communications Dennis Wharton. Retrans consent was established as part of the 1992 Cable Act.
The American Cable Association returned fire, saying that while it is pleased that TWC customers didn’t lose the Disney signals, the retrans consent process remains “broken.” ACA president and CEO Matthew Polka said reform was the only thing that would “protect the public from price-gouging broadcasters,” adding that “small and medium-sized cable operators are paying excessive fees for retransmission consent because broadcasters are able to exploit federal regulations to their advantage.”
“Claiming the system works because a deal got done or because no one complained is akin to a con artist saying extortion works because no one called the police,” Polka said.