Charter Communications CEO Chris Winfrey said at a technology conference in San Francisco on Thursday that he felt there was urgency to resolve a distribution dispute with Walt Disney.
Charter is in a distribution dispute with Disney as the second-largest U.S. cable company negotiates with the media conglomerate over how much its channels are worth and how they should be packaged.
“I’m sorry our consumers were left in the middle here, but we felt it was worth it,” Winfrey said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia + Technology conference. “It was the right time and we had to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ otherwise we will have to move to a different model.”
ESPN, ABC and other Disney channels disappeared from Charter’s Spectrum cable service on Aug. 31, depriving its nearly 15 million video subscribers of access to the U.S. Open tennis tournament, college football and other programming.
Such “carriage disputes” are commonplace in the media world, although these negotiations could shape the future of television in the streaming age.
Winfrey said Charter is responding to rising content prices, limited flexibility in its programming packages and fees its cable subscribers pay that ultimately subsidize streaming services.
Disney issued a statement saying it was “ready” to resolve the carriage dispute and “do what is in the best interest” of Charter’s customers.
“As the US Open reaches the men’s and women’s finals and fans prepare for a college football weekend and the opening of the NFL season, it is unfortunate that Charter has decided to let its customers down by denied them access to our great programming,” Disney said in a statement.
Winfrey said Charter wanted to resolve the dispute quickly “because our customers are in the middle of it.”
But he also described an “alternative world” in which Spectrum Cable no longer carries Disney content, resulting in a smaller package of general entertainment programming that customers “wanted, saw and valued” at a lower price.
In such a scenario, sports could be sold separately.
Scott Robson, senior research analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence, estimates that Charter’s payment to Disney will have increased to just under $2.3 billion from $2.16 billion in 2019, when the company last renewed its carriage contract -Dollar rose in 2023.
At the same time, Robson said, ratings for Disney-owned channels have fallen more than 50% over the past decade, from their peak in 2013 to 2022.