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Reflections on the Disney-Charter Hostage Crisis

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 18: Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger attends the Exclusive 100-Minute Sneak Peek of Peter Jackson's The Beatles: Get Back at El Capitan Theatre on November 18, 2021 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Disney)
Disney can’t yet build a fully scaled direct-to-consumer business without the advantage of the reach and revenue that cable companies provide. Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Disney
Julia Alexander
September 19, 2023

By now, everyone knows the morality tale of the Disney and Charter rights negotiations dust-up: Charter, a largely unlovable cable company, felt understandably screwed that Disney (among other providers) was moving the vast majority of its marquee programming to its own streaming platform. Disney, a historic yet distressed company, was frustrated by the decay of the cable business (a secular behavioral shift facilitated by Charter’s own avarice) and wanted more money for its extremely popular ESPN, and it didn’t want to give away content on Disney+, either. A tense battle emerged and, on the eve of Aaron Rodgers’ 60-second career with the New York Jets, the companies came to an agreement. 

The deal, which gave Charter customers reduced-price access to the Disney streaming bundle, wasn’t unprecedented: Charter already struck a similar deal with Paramount, Spectrum customers also get Peacock free for a limited time, etcetera. While Paramount+ and Peacock technically exist as retail options, the parent companies’ overall strategy is more in line with wholesalers.