By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man –@tvanswerman
TV Answer Man, I read that the governor of North Carolina sent a letter to end the blackout of our channels on Spectrum and Disney. Could that bring this thing to an end? Do the companies take that letter seriously enough to start negotiating like they mean it? — Carla, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Carla, Spectrum TV subscribers have now been without the 26 Disney-owned channels (including ESPN and ABC in seven markets, such as Raleigh) due to a carriage fight. The two sides seem to be far apart in their public stances although you never know for sure what’s going on in behind-the-scenes negotiations. However, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper inserted himself into the fracas yesterday by sending a letter to both companies demanding that the impasse end.
“I write on behalf of many North Carolinians who are frustrated and angry that their football viewing holiday weekend was ruined because of the Charter Spectrum Communications and Disney dispute,” the governor’s letter states. “Not only did ESPN and the ACC Network go dark, but other popular channels as well. Your customers pay a lot of their hard-earned money to watch your entertainment and most of them don’t care how you divide the profits they help you earn. But they do care that they are now paying for something they’re not getting and they want you to settle this dispute right away. As an avid sports fan myself, I second that sentiment…I’ve seen your public positions about why each other is wrong. But we know there is a resolution out there and you should get to it soon without using your customers as leverage. I urge you to work around the clock to resolve this dispute as quickly as possible.”
Could the governor’s letter compel Charter, which owns Spectrum, and Disney to set aside their differences and find common ground? I’ve covered these carriage disputes for decades now and I haven’t yet seen a case where a single politician’s press release or letter can force two stubborn corporations to modify their positions. Yes, they will take the letter seriously but not so seriously that they will compromise their stances which they have concluded are necessary to maintain company profits. However, I will say this. In many extended, and high-profile carriage fights, politicians often publicly demand the two companies end the blackout within a week or so before it does end. It’s as if the pols learn privately that the companies are getting close to an agreement, and they want to take credit by publicly demanding a resolution shortly it’s actually announced. I’m not saying this is what Gov. Cooper is doing, but I know it’s happened in past cases.
If you see more politicians jump in with statements in the coming days, I would not be surprised if the companies have told them that they are making progress. If you don’t see more officials demanding a carriage settlement, I would also bet that they were warned to stay out of it because the two companies are not close and any public statement by the pols would look feckless and self-serving. Sorry if I sound cynical. Before getting into the TV business, I used to cover politics. I know something about how these things work.
Carla, hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann