Disney, Time Warner Cable Close to Carriage Deal

The Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Cable on Monday appeared to have dodged a speeding bullet, as both entities indicated that they have made headway toward resolving their ongoing carriage dispute.

“Disney and Time Warner Cable have made significant progress in our negotiations for continued distribution of ABC, Disney and ESPN networks and services,” read a statement posted to the companies’ respective consumer-outreach websites. “We are now focusing all our attention on a successful conclusion of these efforts prior to the September 2 deadline.”

As has been the case whenever a broadcaster has looked to renegotiate carriage over the last year or so, the primary sticking point between Disney and Time Warner Cable is retransmission content. The local stations up for renewed retrans terms include WABC-TV in New York and KABC-TV in Los Angeles.

Disney is believed to be asking for as much as 50 cents per sub for retransmission of its ABC signal, on par with what CBS has been able to command in its deals with operators.

Also up for debate is the respective carriage fees Time Warner Cable will be asked to shell out for keeping ESPN and Disney Channel on its menu. The sports network is far and away the priciest on the dial, commanding around $4.50 per sub per month, according to SNL Kagan estimates. Disney Channel carries a monthly fee of 43 cents per sub.

While there are many components to the overall carriage deal, the most pressing factor facing both sides may be the approach of the NFL season. Should a final resolution be met before Thursday’s deadline, football fans certainly will breathe easier. The season officially kicks off on Sept. 9, as the New Orleans Saints play host to the Minnesota Vikings on NBC. Four nights later, in what would be the first game to be jeopardized by a possible blackout, ESPN steps to the line of scrimmage for the inaugural Monday Night Football telecast of the 2010 campaign, as the New York Jets square off against the Baltimore Ravens.

While the joint statement is now the only text posted on Disney’s “I Have Choices” site, Time Warner Cable’s “Roll Over or Get Tough” site still features a series of frequently asked questions about retrans consent and how other operators have fared in similar standoffs with programmers.

A graphic on the “Roll Over” site indicates that 40 percent of Time Warner Cable’s customer billings is paid to programmers, while a mere 6 percent of each dollar ends up on the books as net income.

Earlier this month, Comcast and CBS Corp. reached a 10-year retrans pact. Along with the broadcast signal, the deal included carriage of the full suite of premium Showtime Networks.