Is the Disney-Charter dispute the beginning of the end of cable TV?

The dispute over Spectrum subscribers' access to premium Disney content could indicate a larger shift in television

Illustration of a TV with the cables cut by an axe
Spectrum cable subscribers lost access to Disney channels like ESPN during a sports-packed weekend
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

Disney and Charter Communications, one of the country's biggest cable TV providers, are locked in an intense battle over carriage fees, a fight that CNN reported "could lead to the dismantling — or revolution — of the cable television bundle." The conflict reached a critical point over Labor Day weekend "at the most inopportune time for sports fans as the U.S. Open plays out and the NFL season gets underway," and it "has laid bare the strained relations between distributors and content providers," the outlet added.

The two companies are negotiating how much Disney — the owner of channels ABC, ESPN and FX — will charge Charter for their programming. Charter has also demanded that Disney provide its cable subscribers access to their direct-to-consumer services for no additional charge or offer bundling. Charter argues that it's paying high premiums for Disney content, but most of the best programs exist on platforms like Disney+ and not the cable channels. The dispute led to ESPN and other Disney-owned channels being taken off the air for Charter's 15 million Spectrum subscribers over the holiday weekend. During an investment presentation, Charter said that the "current video ecosystem is broken" and unsustainable. "This is not a typical carriage dispute," Charter stated. "It is significant for Charter, and we think it is even more significant for programmers and the broader video ecosystem."

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Theara Coleman, The Week US

Theara Coleman has worked as a staff writer at The Week since September 2022. She frequently writes about technology, education, literature and general news. She was previously a contributing writer and assistant editor at Honeysuckle Magazine, where she covered racial politics and cannabis industry news.