Deadline looms in contract dispute between Optimum and Disney
If a contract cannot be agreed to before tonight's 5 p.m. deadline, millions of Optimum customers hoping to watch the season premiere of ABC's Shark Tank or watch the Los Angeles Sparks try to clinch a second straight WNBA title in prime time will be left in the dark.
Tuesday's American League playoff game on ESPN between the Yankees and Minnesota Twins is also threatened.
The companies have been negotiating a new deal focusing on carriage fees. These fees are what Disney charges to allow companies like Eurpoean-based Altice, Comcast and DirecTV to carry programming provided by the various Disney channels.
With streaming services growing in popularity and channels like ESPN losing viewership through traditional providers Altice says they do not believe they should have to pay higher rates for the channels. In addition to work being done at the negotiating table both companies have taken to the internet to sway public opinion in their favor.
"Viewership of ESPN by Optimum customers has declined more than 30 percent in the last three years, however its owners want us to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for it," Altice said in a message to customers. "In addition, ESPN has spent billions of dollars to air live sports, and they are trying to recoup that money by charging our customers more. Does that sound fair for our customers? NO."
For its part, Disney says it has already reached similar agreements with other cable providers in the area, having a "strong track record of successfully reaching multi-year agreements with these and other TV providers."
"Unfortunately, so far Altice has refused to reach a fair, market-based agreement with us, despite the fact that the terms we are seeking are in line with recent marketplace deals we have reached with other distributors," Disney said in a message of its own.
Disney points out in its statement that if an agreement can't be reached with Altice, customers have other ways of accessing their programming. This includes switching to Verizon FiOS, satellite television, or any number of streaming services.
Altice says it has already offered to carry the Disney programming at "fair market rates," but say the Disney side has rejected those offers, "unless we agree to pay hundreds of millions more in programming fees, even though they all have declining ratings."
According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Nielsen ratings show ESPN has seen its subscribers drop from close to 100 million homes in 2010 to closer to 87 million seven years later.
Optimum customers have also taken to social media to express their displeasure at not only the possibility of losing some of their favorite channels, but also having to pay more for channels they already get.
"Sorry Optimum, but if I lose my sports channels, there is no point in paying over $100 a month for the six channels I watch," Jimmy Hoppenstedt Jr. said. "ESPN is the only reason I still pay your ridiculous price."
"Please, every since the ownership change at "Optimum" my bill has gone up," Jeffrey Silfen said. "Disney is not dealing in reality and either are you. When you deal with your customers in a fair way then you can talk about other companies."
Altice bought Cablevision from the Dolan family in 2016 and changed the name to Optimum.
Silfen also said he wanted "a credit for everyday" the the channels are pulled if a new deal cannot be reached.
While not responding directly to Silfen's request, the company did say it is "hard at work for everyone."
"We can not say what will happen in the future with these negotiations. But whatever happens you can rest assured we will do our best, for all our customers."
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com