UPDATED with details from Verizon email to FiOS customers. ‘Tis the season for cable carriage fights, with December 31 a common expiration date for major deals, and the latest tussle is between Disney and Verizon FiOS.
Disney has started airing ads aimed at the 4.5 million subscribers to FiOS. The spots carry the message “don’t lose your shows.” They say that ESPN, Freeform, the Disney Channel and local ABC stations in New York and Philadelphia could go dark by this time next week if the parties cannot reach an agreement.
Sports is a central issue in the carriage impasse, as it often is. ESPN is preparing to broadcast the two College Football Playoff semi-final games, which 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.
In an email to FiOS customers this afternoon, Verizon said Disney “is currently proposing that Verizon pay hundreds of millions of dollars more for its programming, despite the fact that many of its key networks are experiencing declining viewership.” It added, “The rising cost of programming is the biggest factor in higher TV bills and we are standing up to networks like Disney, refusing to accept these huge increases.”
The email also said Disney is “demanding” that FiOS add the ACC Network as a condition of getting access to its other networks. Verizon also said it has given Disney “a reasonable offer to continue providing you access to its networks. Unfortunately, as of today, they have rejected our offers and there is a possibility that we won’t be able to reach an agreement with them prior to our contract expiration” at 5PM ET on December 31.
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.
In a statement this morning provided to Deadline, Disney said, “Our proven history of providing extraordinary value to consumers and distributors is unmatched. Our negotiations continue in earnest and we remain optimistic that we can reach a deal.” It also cited a Hart Research survey from last summer that found that two-thirds of FiOS customers would drop their service if Disney’s networks were to disappear. The company describes its proposed terms as fair and in line with similar carriage deals.
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.