Millions of college football fans tuned into ESPN on Thursday to watch the first big game of the season: Florida vs. Utah.
Some of them didn’t get what they were looking for.
Instead of the SEC-Pac-12 clash, Spectrum customers were treated to a series of four statements from the cable company explaining that contentious carriage fee negotiations had led to ESPN’s parent company, Disney, pulling its channels from subscribers. Sports channels weren’t the only ones affected, as other Disney-owned properties such as ABC, FX and National Geographic were affected.
The loudest fury came from sports fans, though. Spectrum and ESPN quickly became among the top trending topics on X, formerly known as Twitter, in the United States with fans complaining about being unable to see the channels they paid for. Charter claims to have roughly 14.7 million video subscribers.
Spectrum’s full statement aired to subscribers:
“The Walt Disney Company, the owner of this channel, has removed their programming from Spectrum which creates hardship for our customers. We apologize for the inconvenience and are continuing to negotiate in good faith in order to reach a fair agreement.
“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. We are very disappointed with their position, which has negatively impacted our customers.
“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.
“Our negotiations are about one thing – reaching an agreement that is fair to our customers. We understand this is an inconvenience and hope to return this programming soon. We appreciate your loyalty and look forward to continuing to serve you.”
With ratings falling across the cable world, live sports are more important than ever to companies like Spectrum when it comes to enticing subscribers (Spectrum was on the other side of a similar dispute for years with its Spectrum SportsNet LA). Disney, and every other sports rights-holder, knows this, hence the ruthless battles for TV rights and conference realignment.
Spectrum subscribers aren’t the only college football fans facing lost games this season either, as DirecTV is still in a standoff with Nexstar Media Group, the largest owner of local television stations in the country, with dozens of affiliates for college football mainstay Fox.