The deal replaces one that expires tomorrow and comes following Verizon warning its customers last week that they were in danger of losing Disney-owned properties on the service. Disney also ran ads warning of the possible blackout.
News of the new agreement did not offer specifics. “Verizon and The Walt Disney Company have reached a broad-based distribution agreement. Details will be released in the coming days,” the companies said in a joint statement.
The deal is expected to cover ABC affiliates, ESPN and Disney Channel, among other properties. Disney was also attempting to bundle the ACC Network, a regional sports channel.
December 31 is a common expiration date for major deals.
Disney recently started airing ads aimed at the 4.5 million subscribers to FiOS. The spots carry the message “don’t lose your shows.” The ads warned that ESPN, Freeform, the Disney Channel and local ABC stations in New York and Philadelphia could go dark if the parties cannot reach an agreement.
Sports was a central issue in the carriage impasse, as it often is. ESPN’s College Football Playoff semi-final games have been two of the highest-rated live telecasts in all of television in recent years. The network also has an NFL wild-card playoff game in early January.
Disney, like its fellow programmers, is far from unfamiliar with blackout brinkmanship. In the fall of 2017, it negotiated beyond the contract deadline with Altice but managed to avoid a disruption of carriage. The companies reached a settlement after some acrimonious back and forth about Disney’s heavy spending on sports rights boosting fees.
The American Television Alliance, a consumer watchdog group, said 2017 set a record for the most pay-TV blackouts, with 213. This year’s pace has been a bit slower, with 137 through early December. Even so, there is considerable strain on traditional pay-TV distributors and programmers alike as customers seek out new solutions through stand-alone streaming options and skinny bundles.
Dish Network remains at odds with two major programmers, Univision and HBO (which is enduring the first blackout in its history with the satellite operator) and a year ago Starz and Altice had a high-profile outage.
Dade Hayes contributed to this report
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