TV Answer Man, I saw on Twitter last night that YouTube TV might lose Disney and ESPN and ABC because of one of those fights over money. Do you think this will happen? If so, when? ESPN has a bunch of college football bowl games I don’t want to miss and I will have to switch to Hulu if they don’t have ESPN. — Orlando, Evanston, Illinois. 

Orlando, YouTube TV, the multi-channel, live streaming service, began alerting subscribers last night that they could lose 17 Disney-owned channels at 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday (December 17) due to a carriage fight. The list of affected channels includes ESPN, FX, Freeform, National Geographic, the Disney Channel and eight Disney-owned ABC stations, among others.

Update: YouTube TV Loses Disney, ESPN In Carriage Row

In a blog post, YouTube TV said it would reduce its monthly price from $64.99 to $49.99 for the duration of any blackout of the Disney channels.

“If Disney offers us equitable terms, we’ll renew our agreement with them. However, if we are unable to reach a deal by Friday, the Disney-owned channels will no longer be available on YouTube TV and we will decrease our monthly price by $15, from $64.99 to $49.99 (while this content remains off our platform).,” the streamer stated.

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YouTube TV added: “Disney is an important partner for us. We are in active conversations with them and are working hard to keep their content on YouTube TV. Our ask of Disney, as with all of our partners, is to treat YouTube TV like any other TV provider – by offering us the same rates that services of a similar size pay, across Disney’s channels for as long as we carry them.”

Disney said last night that “it was committed to working with Google (YouTube TV’s owner) to reach a fair, market-based agreement…We are optimistic that we can reach a deal and continue to provide their YouTube TV customers with our live sporting events and news coverage plus kids, family and general entertainment programming.”

Pre-blackout statements can be disingenuous with both companies seeking to curry favor with the viewers which could help generate leverage in negotiations. But neither Disney and YouTube TV are engaging in excessive rhetoric in their comments, in contrast to some fee fights where both sides accuse the other of acting in bad faith during carriage talks. That could be a good sign for a settlement by Friday.

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In addition, YouTube TV probably can not afford to lose the Disney channels, particularly ESPN as we enter the 2021-22 college football bowl season. (ESPN will show 37 different bowl games.) Streaming rivals Fubo TV, Hulu Live, Sling TV and DIRECTV Stream all carry ESPN so YouTube TV undoubtedly would lose a significant number of subscribers if it lost the sports network.

That doesn’t mean YouTube TV will agree to whatever Disney demands. But it does mean it’s highly motivated to avoid a blackout.

YouTube TV’s offer to slash $15 a month off the price if it loses Disney might suggest it’s prepared for a blackout. But we’ve seen this gambit before. The streamer offered to cut $10 a month off its price if it lost the NBC-owned stations on September 30. However, the two sides signed a short-term extension before the deadline and then reached a final agreement a few days later.

If YouTube TV loses Disney, the price reduction will not provide much help in avoiding widescale subscriber defections. Viewers will basically say YouTube TV is cheaper, but you get what you pay for: A streaming service with major programming holes.

So I predict that there will be no blackout.

Orlando, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann