Just a week after YouTube settled its differences with Roku, YouTube TV subscribers are getting more carriage dispute drama, this time with Disney threatening blackouts for all its cable channels.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the two sides have until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, December 17 to reach a deal. Otherwise, YouTube TV will lose ESPN, Disney Channel, FX, National Geographic, ACC Network, SEC Network, and local ABC stations. YouTube, in turn has said that it will lower the price of its service to $50 per month—a $15-per-month discount—for as long as those channels remain dark.
I’m inclined to think this will be a non-story by Saturday. But if you’re a YouTube TV subscriber stressing over Disney’s blackout threat, here’s what you need to know:
UPDATE 2: Less than two days after it began, the blackout is over. YouTube announced on Twitter that it has reached a deal with Disney to continue carrying its channels, and its price will revert to $65 per month accordingly. Existing subscribers will get a one-time discount of $15 for their trouble. Original coverage continues below.
UPDATE: So much for predicting no blackout this time around. As of 11:59 Eastern, all Disney-owned channels have disappeared from YouTube TV, including ESPN and local ABC channels. Here’s the full list of affected channels:
- ABC News Live
- Disney Channel
- Disney Junior
- Disney XD
- National Geographic
- National Geographic Wild
- SEC Network
The blackout also applies to any recordings from the above channels stored in YouTube TV’s cloud DVR.
In a blog post, YouTube said it will continue to negotiate with Disney, but in the meantime it will lower subscribers’ prices to $50 per month—a $15 per month reduction—reflecting the cost of carrying Disney’s channels. The company also said to turn to its FAQ page for further updates.
The rest of the original story continues below.
It’ll probably work out
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney expressed optimism that it will reach a deal by the deadline, noting that it has “a highly successful track record” of negotiating agreements with TV providers.
History backs up that assertion. AT&T and Disney avoided a blackout after publicly butting heads in 2019; Charter and Verizon both made deals with Disney despite blackout threats in 2018; and Altice and Disney came to terms without a blackout in 2017. To find an example of an actual Disney channel blackout, I had to go all the way back to 2010, when Disney-owned ABC stations went dark on Cablevision for roughly 21 hours.
Perhaps Disney is less hard-nosed in negotiations than other networks, or maybe TV providers are afraid to lose Disney’s most popular channels. In any case, the odds favor ESPN and other Disney-owned channels staying on YouTube TV.
All local channels are on the line
Initially, Disney told several publications that only eight of ABC’s local stations were part of the carriage dispute. The company has since clarified that a blackout would affect all ABC stations in every market, not just a handful of owned-and-operated ones.
Again, my guess is this will be a moot point come Saturday, but cord-cutters might need to consider other TV bundles or an over-the-air antenna for local ABC coverage if the two sides can’t make a deal.
Disney+ isn’t involved
When NBCUniversal threated YouTube TV with a blackout a few months ago, Variety reported that the network was looking to bundle its Peacock Premium streaming service as part of any new agreement. NBCUniversal quickly dropped that demand, and the two sides ultimately reached a deal, but it still looked to me like the start of a trend in which networks try boost their fledgling streaming services through mandatory pay TV bundling.
Thankfully, that’s not the case here. Although Disney will soon bundle Disney+ and ESPN+ into Hulu’s live TV service—while raising the price to $70 per month—the company has confirmed that it isn’t pushing to bundle Disney+ with YouTube TV.
The Disney bundle isn’t a full substitute
In a blog post, YouTube said that if it can’t reach a deal with Disney, customers should consider subscribing to the separate Disney bundle, which includes Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu’s on-demand service for $14 per month.
It’s an odd suggestion given that the Disney bundle has little overlap with Disney’s cable channels. While Hulu’s on-demand service does include next-day access to primetime ABC and FX shows, it doesn’t offer live ABC streams or sporting events. Meanwhile, Disney+ doesn’t include new shows from the Disney Channel, and ESPN+ doesn’t carry popular ESPN shows such as SportsCenter or most major live sporting events. (It will, however, stream Monday Night Football for the rest of the season.)
If a blackout does happen, and you really want to retain access to ESPN and other Disney-owned channels, you’re better off switching to a different live TV service, such as Hulu + Live TV, Fubo TV, or Sling TV. But one can understand why YouTube isn’t suggesting that.
Don’t be surprised if price hikes result
Carriage disputes, like the one we’re seeing now between Disney and YouTube TV, ultimately boil down to how much customers must pay for cable channels. Just like on the cable and satellite side, TV networks are constantly pushing for higher carriage fees, while providers such as YouTube TV want to keep prices down to avoid driving customers away.
In this case, YouTube says it wants “the same rates that services of a similar size pay, across Disney’s channels for as long as we carry them,” a possible reference to “Most Favored Nation” status in industry jargon. Essentially, if another TV provider negotiated a better deal on Disney’s channels in the future, YouTube TV would automatically get the same deal for itself.
But even if YouTube gets what it wants, Disney’s channels aren’t getting any cheaper, and YouTube TV hasn’t raised prices since July 2020, when it jumped from $50 per month to $65 per month. (The company also added Hallmark’s channels to its lineup last month, without raising prices at the time.) Given that Disney’s bundle channels are the most expensive on cable, it’s hard to see YouTube TV’s costs going anywhere but up in the end.
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