Q. I’ve read that DIRECTV could lose ESPN tonight? Is that true? Will it really happen so soon? It better not! — Yardley, Bel Air, Maryland.
Yardley, the short answer is that we don’t know, but it’s possible. Let me explain.
Update: It appears on Sunday morning (September 15) that a deal is done. See TVAnswerman.com for more information.
ESPN shook the DIRECTV audience last Monday night when it posted viewer alerts during its Monday Night Football broadcast that said the satcaster could soon lose the popular sports channel.
And upon investigation, it turned out that DIRECTV, and the entire AT&T TV division, which includes U-verse and AT&T TV Now, could also lose every Disney-owned channel. The list includes ESPN, ABC in select markets, the new ACC Network, the Longhorn Network, the Disney Channel and Disney Jr., among others.
The companies are fighting over the terms in a new agreement that would allow DIRECTV and the other two AT&T TV services to continue carrying the channels.
In its viewer alert, ESPN did not say when the current carriage pact between Disney and AT&T will end, nor when the channels could actually be removed. (ESPN and AT&T also will not comment on the end date when asked by reporters.)
But the graphics used by ESPN for the alert featured a college football game on Saturday, and the upcoming Monday Night Football matchup between the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets.
Awful Announcing, a web site that covers the sports TV business, said that meant that Disney might pull the channels as early as this weekend. But, once again, the ESPN alert did not specifically say a blackout could happen that early, nor did it give any date.
Update: Fueling the fire today was a tweet from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey:
“Attention @SEC fans! If you are a DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse or AT&T TVNow subscriber, you may not be able to view games on @SECNetwork (& other @ESPN and Disney networks) this weekend. Visit instantaccesstv.com for the latest info.”
It’s unclear if Sankey has inside information, or is repeating what he’s read in the media. The TV Answer Man has asked him for a comment and will report back here if he replies.
The other interpretation is that ESPN was simply reminding the viewers of the type of programming it offers rather than saying they could lose those particular games. Certainly, you could argue that it would be a bit shady for ESPN to create the possible perception that the blackout could come this weekend. (That is, if it’s not coming this weekend.) But companies tend to play hardball in programming disputes, even if means getting viewers unnecessarily upset.
Another argument against the deadline being this weekend:
If it was this weekend, Disney would want to broadcast that fact loud and clear to put the greatest pressure on AT&T to accept its terms. Programmers usually tell their viewers exactly when they could lose their channels so they will urge their TV providers to settle the dispute before the blackout can begin.
If the ESPN-AT&T carriage pact doesn’t end this weekend, it’s most likely it won’t end until September 30. That’s when the previous agreement between the companies expired, and these deals tend to renew on the same date.
So, bottom line, we’ll see what’s the real deal in the next 24 hours. Until then, happy viewing!
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— Phillip Swann