By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man –@tvanswerman

TV Answer Man, is there any sign that this blackout with Spectrum and ESPN will end soon? I’m not sure I can take it much longer without switching services. I like Spectrum because it has the Dodgers. What’s the latest? – Jamal, Los Angeles.
Jamal, the Spectrum TV-Disney carriage dispute today enters its fifth full day with both sides continuing to point the finger of blame at each other in public statements. Charter, which owns Spectrum TV, claims Disney refuses to be flexible in creating a new carriage arrangement that would allow the declining pay TV business to stay alive for years to come. Disney denies that and says Charter is refusing to accept terms that other pay TV services have agreed to. Regardless of who’s right, Spectrum TV subscribers are still without 26 Disney channels, including ESPN and the ABC affiliate in seven markets.

However, there is some good news, albeit from a journalist and not one of the companies. John Ourand, one of the best sports reporters in the business, wrote yesterday that his sources tell him that “it’s likely that (Charter and Disney) will reach an agreement over the next few days or weeks. The two sides still are talking. I’m told Charter President and CEO Chris Winfrey and Disney CEO Bob Iger have been in contact over the weekend.” The bad news, however, is that Ourand writes that Disney is waiting to see how many Charter subscribers drop their service and possibly put more pressure on Charter to modify its position.

“Despite steady negotiations over the weekend, sources said that Charter and Disney are no closer to a deal than they were last week. Disney wants to wait to see how much pain Charter is willing to take from angry sports fans ditching their video packages. Charter’s plan to refer those angry subscribers to other video outlets suggests that the cable operator is prepared to wait it out, as well,” Ourand reports, referencing Charter’s unusual move to offer the Fubo live streaming service to its subscribers at a discount.

Ourand says Charter has contemplated exiting video for years and concentrating on the much healthier Broadband business. That’s why Charter is willing to wait the dispute out if necessary – and why it decided to offer a competing video service such as Fubo.

It sounds like the next few days could be pivotal to whether the blackout ends sooner than later, or ever. Will Charter postpone a plan to evacuate the video business and accept Disney’s terms for a traditional carriage agreement where channels like ESPN are available to all subscribers? Or will Charter draw the line in the sand and refuse to accept any deal unless Disney allows it to offer lower-cost packages that do not include ESPN but would appeal to cord cutters? I predicted on Friday that the dispute would last less than two weeks, and possibly less than one. I will stay with that prediction, but I would not be surprised if the ultimate agreement is only for a few years, giving both Disney and Charter time to prepare for the future when channels such as ESPN are available in costly standalone plans rather than cable bundles.

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— Phillip Swann