Disney+ Drops Ad-Supported Basic Monthly Price to $1.99, Touts Hulu + Live TV As Charter Spectrum Carriage Dispute Continues

Disney+ is offering its ad-supported basic tier option to new subscribers for $1.99 monthly through Sept. 20 — down from its normal $7.99 fee. Thereafter, the promotional fee reverts back to the standard price until canceled. Disney is also pushing its $9.99 Bundle Duo Basic package, which includes ad-supported versions of Disney+ and ESPN+.

Although not mentioned, the promotion comes as the Walt Disney Co. remains embroiled in a carriage distribution dispute with Charter Communications, which operates the Spectrum pay-TV platform with 14.7 million subscribers — the second-largest cable TV operator in the country.

Last week, Spectrum subscribers lost access to Disney-owned ESPN and ABC, among other channels, days before the start of the 2023 college football season. The NFL begins its new season Sept. 7.

Charter claims Disney is asking for more to carry its programming, while continuing to aggressively market its direct-to-consumer streaming options. Charter, which is paying Disney more than $2 billion this year in carriage fees, is also asking Disney to offer its subs free access to ad-supported versions of Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu.

Earlier this week, Disney urged affected Charter subscribers to sign up for its Hulu + Live TV platform, which ended the most-recent fiscal period with 4.3 million subscribers. Disney is offering the ad-supported online TV service, along with ad-supported versions of ESPN+ and Disney+ for $69.99 monthly until Oct. 12, when the bundle increases its price to $76.99.

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The dispute comes as both Disney and Charter face ongoing subscriber losses across both direct-to-consumer and legacy pay-TV markets. Disney+ saw 300,000 North America subscribers drop the service in its most-recent fiscal period. Spectrum lost 789,000 pay-TV subs year-over-year for the 90-day fiscal period ended June 30.

Disney Programming Pulled from Spectrum Cable Services in Latest Carriage Fee Dispute

Access to channels owned by The Walt Disney Co. has been blocked on Charter Communication’s Spectrum cable service in the latest dispute between a content provider and carrier over access fees. The channels went dark at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on Thursday, Aug. 31.

Charter Spectrum is the second-largest cable provider in the country, with more than 14.7 million subscribers impacted by the blackout.

Affected channels include ABC, ESPN, FX, Freeform, National Geographic, Disney Channel and related spinoff channels. The blackout prevents Spectrum subscribers from viewing, among other things, the U.S. Open tennis tournament and the start of the college football season.

“We’ve been in ongoing negotiations with Charter Communications for some time and have not yet agreed to a new market-based agreement,” Disney said in a statement. “As a result, their Spectrum TV subscribers no longer have access to our unrivaled portfolio of live sporting events and news coverage plus kids, family and general entertainment programming from the ABC Owned Television Stations, the ESPN networks, the Disney-branded channels, Freeform, the FX networks and the National Geographic channels. Disney Entertainment has successful deals in place with pay-TV providers of all types and sizes across the country, and the rates and terms we are seeking in this renewal are driven by the marketplace. We’re committed to reaching a mutually agreed upon resolution with Charter and we urge them to work with us to minimize the disruption to their customers.”

For Spectrum customers trying to watch Disney programming, the channels were replaced by a screen explaining the situation. Spectrum also posted a statement on its website.

“The Walt Disney Company has removed their programming from Spectrum, which creates hardship for our customers,” the statement reads. “We offered Disney a fair deal, yet they are demanding an excessive increase. They also want to limit our ability to provide greater customer choice in programming packages forcing you to take and pay for channels you may not want. Spectrum is on your side and fighting to keep costs down while protecting and maximizing customer choice. The rising cost of programming is the single greatest factor in higher cable TV prices, and we are fighting hard to hold the line on programming rates imposed on us by companies like Disney.”

Spectrum’s messaging suggested customers visit DisneyESPNFairDeal.com to send an email to Disney executives urging a resolution to the matter.

At issue seems to be Spectrum’s desire to create different programming packages that separate sports and general entertainment, rather than the typical cable model in which carriers pay for a bundle of channels from a provider that forces them to carry lesser-viewed channels alongside the popular ones. Those costs are then passed along to the consumer in the form of higher cable bills.

Charter Communications also issued a media statement expressing frustration with Disney, a company that has been recently mired in a number of financial and political woes, including several lawsuits relating to its business practices.

“We are disappointed with The Walt Disney Company’s decision to remove their networks from our lineup and deny our customers the opportunity to watch,” Charter stated. “We would agree to The Walt Disney Company’s significant rate increase despite their declining ratings. But they are trying to force our customers to pay for their very expensive programming, even those customers who don’t want it or worse, can’t afford it.

“With The Walt Disney Company, we have proposed a model that creates better alignment for the industry and better choices for our customers. We are hopeful we can find a path forward.”

While such negotiating blackouts can occur from time to time, the relationship between carrier and provider is much more complicated in the streaming era, as many content providers now offer their programming directly to consumers in the form of SVOD services, which can become an incentive for viewers to abandon cable.

 

 

AXS TV, Spectrum Launch Program to Support Music Education

AXS TV has joined forces with Spectrum to launch “AXS TV’s Band Together for Music Education” — a new initiative connecting AXS TV with affiliates, local communities, and schools to support music education programs.

“AXS TV’s Band Together” is set to launch this month in five markets across California, Florida, New York, Ohio and Texas.

“AXS TV’s Band Together” awards five $10,000 grants to school-age music education programs across the country. These are established programs that exemplify top leadership, instruction, and participation, yet also demonstrate a strong need for further funding and support. Selected teachers can then use the grant to purchase music, fix instruments or buy new ones, repair or replace performance equipment and uniforms, etc.

The inaugural winners were picked from programs in five key Spectrum markets, including Heart of LA — HOLA in Los Angeles; Eastmoor Academy in Columbus, Ohio; Dr. Billy E. Dade Middle School in Dallas; Prine Elementary in Bradenton, Fla.; and Rochdale Early Advantage Charter School (REACS) in Jamaica, N.Y. AXS TV will present each grant at designated events during December and January.

“Enrolling children in music education at an early age has proven to positively impact several facets of their development that continue with them throughout their lives — from building confidence and creativity, to improving reading, math, and communication skills; boosting classroom attendance; and so much more,” according to an AXS TV press release. “Despite this, public school music programs often experience a severe lack of funding and are the first casualties when budget cuts are made. It is a problem that has only increased in recent years.”

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“We’re grateful for the AXS TV ‘Band Together’ partnership, which will help even more children pursue their musical dreams,” said Catherine Bohigian, EVP of government affairs for Charter Communications, which operates the Spectrum brand of internet, TV, mobile and voice services. “Through music education, young people can learn valuable social, academic and creative skills, enriching their lives and preparing them for the future, which complements our commitment to support initiatives that strengthen the communities where we live and work.”

“Instilling a deep passion for music in the younger generations is a major part of AXS TV’s mission, and ‘Band Together’ is a perfect representation of that,” said Anthony Cicione, president of entertainment for AXS TV’s parent company, Anthem Sports & Entertainment. “We are excited to join with Spectrum on this important initiative, giving these talented students vital tools to reach even greater heights as they progress in their musical journeys. Who knows? The students of today could very well become the stars of tomorrow — and we just might be featuring them on our network in the coming years!”

AXS TV is a multi-platform music, entertainment and lifestyle digital platform and television company owned and operated by Anthem Sports & Entertainment. 

Charter Communications is a broadband connectivity company and cable operator serving more than 32 million customers in 41 states through its Spectrum brand.

 

Charter/Spectrum Loses High-Speed Internet Subscribers in Q2

In a switch, cable pay-TV operator Charter Communications July 29 disclosed it lost 42,000 high-speed internet subscribers in the second quarter, ended June 30. With the rise in over-the-top video distributors, consumers have been migrating to broadband in order to receive streaming service.

Charter, which operates under the Spectrum brand, still saw a spike in overall residential and small business broadband subs, ending the period with 30.2 million subs compared with 29.6 million subs in the previous-year period.

CEO Tom Rutledge

Meanwhile, the pay-TV subscriber attrition continues. Spectrum lost 240,000 video subs in the quarter — a decline softened slightly by the addition of 642,000 small business accounts. Still, the pay-TV sub loss dwarfed last year’s decline of 63,000 video subs. Spectrum ended the period with almost 15.5 million video subs, down from 16 million a year ago.

CEO Tom Rutledge said he believes the company can continue to grow its overall business by melding fixed and mobile broadband service at a reduced price to customers.

“Our growth has always been driven by offering value-rich packages at prices customers can afford,” Rutledge said in a statement. “Looking forward, we remain well-positioned to grow our business using that same strategy.”

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Spectrum Adds HBO Max, YouTube to Guide

Spectrum has launched HBO Max and YouTube within the Spectrum Guide on eligible devices across its service area, providing customers access to the streaming services directly from the Spectrum TV platform.

HBO Max and YouTube are now automatically available to customers with eligible devices and Spectrum Internet. Customers can tune directly to channel 2003 for YouTube or 2004 for HBO Max, use the guide’s search function, or look for the logos in the Apps menu within Spectrum Guide.

“As the video landscape continues to change, we are evolving our products and making it easier for our customers to watch what they want by providing access to streaming apps from convenient launch points within the Spectrum TV experience,” Elena Ritchie, group VP of video experience, said in a statement. “We look forward to growing this library and expect to launch more streaming video apps in the coming months.”

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HBO Max gives Spectrum customers more than 13,000 hours of content, featuring the brands HBO, Warner Bros., DC, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Turner Classic Movies and more. In order to access HBO Max content, customers can subscribe through Spectrum, another provider or directly through HBO Max.

Charter Communications to Carry Acorn TV, Urban Movie Channel Streaming Services

AMC Networks Oct. 31 announced that Charter Communications will launch its full suite of subscription video-on-demand services as well as AMC Premiere, the company’s premium ad-free version of its AMC channel, to Charter’s Spectrum customers.

The launch of AMC Premiere, Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and Urban Movie Channel (UMC) affords Spectrum subscribers access to a wide variety of exclusive AMC Networks content, including the Emmy-Award winning “Killing Eve” (AMC Premiere), “Doc Martin” (Acorn TV), “Creepshow” (Shudder), the Emmy Award-winning “State of the Union” (Sundance Now) and Craig Ross Jr.’s “Monogamy” (UMC).

AMC Acquired UMC and Acorn TV through the majority $65 million acquisition of RLJ Entertainment in 2018 — the company formed through Robert L. Johnson’s purchase of Acorn Media and Image Entertainment in 2012.

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The services will be offered on the majority of Spectrum set-top boxes in the coming months.

The launch is part of a recent broader long-term agreement between the two companies that includes continued carriage of AMC Networks’ AMC, BBC America, IFC, SundanceTV, WE tv and BBC World News linear television networks as well as an extension of a previously announced co-production arrangement between the companies.

“As both of our businesses continue to evolve, we are very pleased to expand our relationship by enriching Charter’s offering with our targeted SVOD services,” Ed Carroll, AMC Networks COO, said in a statement. “Our SVOD services serve passionate audiences with the content they love. We look forward to continuing to forge a new path with Charter, giving Spectrum customers access to our shows on whatever platform they choose.”

AMC Premiere delivers fans of AMC’s original programming with commercial-free viewing, early access to content and the opportunity to binge select series, including the Emmy- and Golden Globe-Award winning “Killing Eve,” “The Walking Dead,” “Fear the Walking Dead” and “The Terror.”

AMC Networks’ SVOD services have experienced substantial growth over the past year, with its Acorn TV service, North America’s largest and most popular streaming service for British and international television, recently surpassing the 1 million paid subscriber milestone.

The growth has been driven by demand for acclaimed series “Line of Duty,” “Agatha Raisin,” “Doc Martin,” and Lucy Lawless in “My Life is Murder.”

AMC Networks’ other SVOD services include:

  • Shudder, an essential offering for fans of horror, thriller and suspense with an unmatched library of series and films, including the premiere of its newest original series, “Creepshow,” which set records in terms of viewers, subscriber acquisition and total minutes streamed, and was just renewed for a second
  • Sundance Now offers a rich selection of original and exclusive series from engrossing true crime to heart-stopping dramas and fiercely intelligent thrillers from around the world, including “Discovery of Witches,” “Riviera” and “Killing for Love.”
  • UMC (Urban Movie Channel), the first subscription streaming service created for African American audiences, features a broad mix of original series, network TV shows, classic sitcoms, and feature films, including Daytime Emmy-nominated series “Bronx SIU,” OWN’s “Black Love,” the LisaRaye McCoy and Duane Martin-led classic UPN sitcom “All of Us,” and the recent theatrical release of Master P’s I Got the Hook Up 2.

Studios Reportedly Back Private Sector 5G Spectrum Allocation

Next-generation 5G wireless technology continues to get a lot of attention (and hype) — notably as an enhanced distribution channel for mobile video entertainment.

Mobile data traffic worldwide is expected to increase from 28 exabytes monthly this year to 77 exabytes monthly by 2022, according to Statista. 5G is expected to add $2.7 trillion to the U.S. GDP by 2030.

Consumer awareness of the fifth-generation wireless technology successor has reached mainstream, according to The NPD Group. So too has government concern surrounding the security and allocation of increasingly coveted (and finite) spectrum (or megahertz) required to deliver 5G data.

The FCC reportedly is considering offering 5G wireless services through a government-backed network using existing and Department of Defense spectrum, an idea that would include repurposing current commercial bandwidth.

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This isn’t sitting well with some regulators, notably Federal Communications Commission board member Michael O’Reilly, a longtime champion of market-driven initiatives over government intervention/regulation.

“To call this [government 5G network] effort a trial balloon is insulting to balloons, as all the ideas mentioned have far less consistency than balloons, and more closely resemble a child’s bubbles,” O’Reilly wrote in a blog post last month.

Enter the C-Band Alliance (CBA), a lobbying group representing satellite operators it says represent “100%” of the C-band services currently provided in the United States.

The group sent the FCC a proposal it claims would “quickly clear” C-band spectrum and would pave the way toward the United States maintaining equilibrium with China and other countries in 5G wireless services.

The CBA advocates streamlining the allocation process of 200 MHz of C-band downlink spectrum to 18-to-36 months after the FCC finalizes repurposing satellite’s C-band spectrum for 5G service.

Specifically, the group says satellite operators would cover all costs to clear spectrum and to implement operations in the upper 300 MHz of the band.

“Compared to FCC-run spectrum auctions, which historically have taken as long as a decade, the CBA proposal can deliver valuable spectrum to the U.S. market years ahead of any alternative proposal,” the CBA wrote.

Satellite operators would also coordinate with domestic C-band users such as Hollywood studios, content holders and distributors to “repack hundreds of audio and video services” into the remaining 300 MHz.

Representatives from Disney, Viacom, Fox, CBS, Discovery and Univision, among others, reportedly met with the FCC advocating for speedier spectrum allocation.

Indeed, Disney said its ESPN unit last month used 143 C-band feeds in one day to produce its 24/7 sports content.

“No other distribution method matches C-band in ubiquity and reliability,” the studios wrote in a letter to the FCC. “Content companies and other programmers thus rely on the C-band as the principal means of delivering video to the many thousands of earth stations in the United States.”

Charter’s Spectrum TV App on Apple TV

Charter Communications has launched the Spectrum TV App on Apple TV.

Nearly 50 million homes across Charter’s footprint now have access to live channels and tens of thousands of programs on the Spectrum TV App for Apple TV, according to Charter.

Additionally, starting next week and expanding throughout 2019, new and existing Spectrum TV and Internet customers can get an Apple TV 4K as part of their monthly subscription for $7.50/month plus tax for 24 months, according to Charter.

Charter is the first U.S. based cable operator to offer customers the new zero sign-on experience from Apple, which further simplifies signing in to video apps on Apple TV, according to Charter. When first set up in a Spectrum household, Apple TV 4K or Apple TV (4th generation) will detect the Spectrum customer’s broadband network and automatically sign them in to the Spectrum TV App and all the supported apps they receive through their service — with no need to enter a username and password, according to Charter.

The new Spectrum TV App is also integrated with the Apple TV app and Siri.

“We are bringing our customers the most robust Spectrum TV App experience available today through Apple TV,” said Rich DiGeronimo, Charter’s EVP, products and strategy, in a statement. “With features like zero sign-on and Apple TV app integration, the Spectrum TV App on Apple TV delivers the best and most seamless viewing experience, giving customers even greater choice and flexibility to enjoy Spectrum TV.”

“With Spectrum TV on Apple TV 4K, customers can now enjoy the ultimate entertainment experience across their iPhone, iPad and Apple TV,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple VP of product marketing, in a statement. “We want to help customers get right to watching their favorite channels, shows, movies and sports, and with innovative features like zero sign-on, the Apple TV app and Siri, they are able to jump right in.”

Netflix Finally Available on Sky

Netflix, beginning Sept. 19, is now available as a direct link to U.K. pay-TV service Sky – about six months after first announcing a partnership with the high-profile satellite TV operator.

The SVOD behemoth is available to Sky’s most-expensive Q bundle for an extra £10 monthly as part of Sky’s “Ultimate On Demand” add-on feature. Existing Netflix subscribers can link their account to Sky Q or log onto the Netflix app separately.

But direct access, including Netflix original programing on display alongside traditional pay-TV selections is precisely why multichannel video program distributors such as Comcast, Virgin Media (since 2013), Altice USA, Charter Spectrum, Cox, Liberty Global and T-Mobile, among others, have embraced Netflix.

“We are partnering with a growing number of pay-TV providers across the world to the benefit of our mutual customers,” Netflix said in its Q4 shareholder letter. “These partnerships make it easier for consumers to sign up, enjoy, and pay for Netflix, while our service allows our partners to deepen their relationships with these subscribers.”

Amber Pine, commercial director at Sky, says the satellite TV operator with about 9 million U.K. subscribers has a lot of mutual customers.

“The depth of this integration provides them with a unique experience where they can have the best of both worlds,” Pine said in a statement.

Indeed, British regulator Ofcom recently reported that over-the-top video across the pond has now topped pay-TV in the number of subscribers: 15.4 million to 15.1 million.

“On a simplistic level, Sky and Netflix look like direct competitors,” Andrew McIntosh, the head of TV analysis at Enders Analysis, told Wired. “But they act on different levels, which Sky is well aware of. Sky doesn’t offer what Netflix offers. Now it is providing what it can’t offer, but still through the Sky package. And it makes Sky look good, because it is putting the customer first. It’s a very clever move.”

And interesting, considering both Comcast, Fox (and Disney) have competing acquisition bids on the table for Sky.