By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man –@tvanswerman
TV Answer Man, I wonder if Disney is trying to get Spectrum’s subscribers to switch to Hulu and that’s behind this whole blackout. What do you think? Is Disney using the Spectrum holdout to help Hulu? — Tom, Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Tom, since last Thursday night, Charter’s Spectrum TV subscribers have been without the 26 Disney-owned channels, including ESPN and ABC affiliates in seven markets, due to a carriage dispute between the companies. They are battling over fees, of course, but the main roadblock seems to be Charter’s insistence on Disney allowing it to NOT offer ESPN in lower-priced plans which could appeal to cord cutters. Like other pay TV services, Spectrum TV has lost a significant number of subscribers in the last few years and the company could stem the losses if it could provide less expensive packages. However, if ESPN has to be in every package, that’s nearly impossible because Charter would have to pay so much more to Disney in carriage fees.

Disney last night posted a blog at its web site that urges Spectrum’s customers to switch to Hulu’s live service. “Luckily, consumers have more choices today than ever before to immediately access the programming they want without a cable subscription. For starters, there’s Hulu + Live TV. The service has more than 90 live channels that include sports, news, and entertainment. Hulu + Live TV starts at $69.99 a month, and you can cancel anytime. There’s no contract, no cable box, and no wait time to subscribe.” Hulu Live’s lineup includes ESPN, the missing ABC affiliates, and the other Disney channels now not available on Spectrum.

Now Disney does own 67 percent of Hulu and it might appear that the company is using the Spectrum blackout as a device to boost its streaming service, particularly now when rival streamer YouTube TV is about to host its first exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket season. But trust me, this fight is about a lot more than Hulu. Disney is seeking to extract as many carriage dollars as possible from Charter/Spectrum TV while it can. The pay TV industry is in rapid decline and Disney knows that the next time — if there is a next time — the two talk contract, it will be for considerably less money and different carriage propositions such as for standalone apps rather than traditional channels. Yes, Disney would certainly like to help Hulu, but the streaming service is far down on its priority list these days.

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

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— Phillip Swann