A Matter Of Trust?

A very busy day yesterday began with a hopeful argument from a friend who was particularly concerned about the lack of progress in the Charter-Disney dispute that had disrupted his extremely nuanced, eaborate and established setup of how he could view and record a multitude of college football games on a timetable that would often delay his knowledge of the results of a particular game for days, even weeks.   Questionable as his quirks on “snipe avoidance” might otherwise be he made an extremely valid point when he offered that it would likely take some sort of intervention to get these monolithic companies to come to an agreement, and invoked the concept of public trust into his argument.

Governments award companies like Charter exclusive territorial rights for the availability of their services, much like they do power companies, he reasoned.  With that comes an expectation that they will provide those services to me should I choose to subscribe to it.  If they decide not to make them available, then that exclusivity should be revoked.  Perhaps a somewhat pious lament given bureaucratic red tape, but, nonetheless, valid.  In this particular case, with the clock ticking down on the avaiability of the even more highly anticipated Monday Night Football season opener between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets–two teams which happen to both play in markets where Charter/Spectrum provides cable services, perhaps his hopes may have been a but more answerable.

And, indeed, early in the morning, this somewhat surprising resolution hit the trades, per DEADLINE’s Dade Hayes:

Disney and Charter Communications have reached a carriage renewal, ending a 10-day impasse that drew intense scrutiny to the shifting economics of pay-TV in the streaming era.

The agreement preserves carriage on Charter’s Spectrum systems for 19 cable networks and stations, including ESPN, FX and ABC stations in major markets, but it leaves behind eight others. The roster of networks that will no longer be carried by Spectrum includes Baby TV, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, FXM, FXX, Nat Geo Wild and Nat Geo Mundo.  

The deal also will furnish the ad-supported tier of Disney+ to Spectrum TV Select subscribers, as part of a wholesale arrangement, and will include ESPN+ will be provided to Spectrum TV Select Plus subscribers. When ESPN launches its full-bodied direct-to-consumer service sometime in the next couple of years, it will be made available to Spectrum TV Select subscribers, the companies agreed. Charter will “maintain flexibility to offer a range of video packages at varying price points based upon different customer viewing preferences,” according to the official announcement of the deal. The distributor will also offer Disney’s direct-to-consumer services to all customers at retail rates.

If that sounds to you much more like a typical season-opening deadline compromise between providers of content and pipe than we may have been led to believe in the last few days, you’re not alone.  Indeed, both parties came away with something valuable–Disney gains distribution for its ad-supported streaming services, and Charter gets to finally have some control over the slew of networks it has been forced to offer on widely distributed packages that have far less relevance and passion bases, a tactic that Big Media has utilized since the 1990s to populate expanded cable channel rosters when digital technology evolved.  The details and rationale from Disney’s point of view made that abundantly clear.  Fascinatingly, it was NOT our friend Bob AIger who made those details available to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Alex Weprin, but rather, the respective heads of his business units:

“I think if we’re learning anything in this moment, it is that we need to remain flexible, that these models are changing rapidly, that keeping up with technology and the consumer means we have to stay flexible and agile,” says Dana Walden, co-chairman of Disney Entertainment, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter shortly after the deal was announced.

However, being flexible also means being willing to give up a few cards.  “When we looked across the portfolio to try to identify where the greatest value in this deal was to us, we definitely made some trade-offs with the following thinking in place: The digital networks are for the most part targeted, and they super-serve an audience in the linear ecosystem, but they are also windowed onto what we are calling our primary channels [Disney Channel, FX, Nat Geo],” Walden says. “So you know the Nat Geo suite, ultimately that programming also airs on Nat Geo and then it is windowed over to Disney+, similarly with Disney Junior and Disney XD. And then FXX has been a valuable source of programming for Hulu, and so we don’t intend to change how we program that channel right now. It’s very much connected to our pipeline of general entertainment to Hulu.

Let’s create this opportunity to expand that ESPN platform so that ultimately when we do take our primary channels direct-to-consumer, we have the opportunity to upsell that offering to a much larger sports fan base,” (ESPN chairman Jimmy) Pitaro says. Of course, ESPN has benefited tremendously from the pay TV ecosystem, and while the company is thinking about streaming, it isn’t giving up the golden goose just yet.’

Cutting to the chase:  if you REALLY want to see an episode of IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA or THE WIGGLES, you’ll still be able to find it, perhaps not quite as expeditously as my friend can find a taped college football game.  You might have to subscribe to that now-deleted secondary network through an additional tier or, once the dust eventually settles on the anticipated Disney buyout of Hulu, via that channel’s availability on Hulu+Live Channels, or, indeed via Disney+ or Hulu’s catalogues (likely via the ad-supported tier).   But notice that the various iterations of ESPN, including secondary channels such as ESPNU and ESPNews, aren’t going away just yet.  My friend may not be all that atypical after all.

Why such details came from the mouths of Walden and Pitaro rather than Iger, whose comments were reserved for a joint press release from him and Charter head Chris Winfrey, may have been circumstantial.  (Between Hulu, two strikes, and the stock price, not to mention his prized office shower, Iger’s got a full plate of late).  Or maybe, he is placing trust in–or testing the potential–of possible successors?

There was more of an invocation of the concept of trust in Iger’s act than the awarding of a cable franchise to a community.

But a lot less than the level of trust that Jets fans will now need to have now that it appears that Rodgers, just four plays into his debut seasons as Jets quarterback, is now apparently lost for the season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon.  Buoyed by stellar defense and a few late-game breaks, the Jets were able to somehow pull out a victory last night, but now are facing yet another season with first round bust Zach Wilson under center.

My understanding is that Long Island native Iger is a Jets fan.

Maybe we should cut him some slack?

And hey, let’s lay off Charter/Spectrum, too.  Regardless of whether someone like Kathy Hochul or Roger Goodell applied a little behind-the-scenes pressure or not, they and other customers got to see the one-time host of JEOPARDY! as the leader of the New York Football Jets for those four plays live last night after all.

There’s plenty more to unpack in other areas for everyone involved.  Trust ME.  But that’s for later this week and beyond.

Until next time…


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