Disney-Altice Deal Analysis Roundup: ESPN Shows It Still Has Plenty of Muscle

On Sunday, Walt Disney Company and cable operator Altice USA reached a tentative deal that will keep ESPN and other networks in the homes of millions of New York-area pay-TV customers — just in time for yesterday’s edition of Monday Night Football and tonight’s Yankees-Twins AL Wild Card Game. Disney and Altice had been sparring over how much the cable operator would pay to continue carrying ESPN, ABC, and other channels on its Optimum service. The battle reflected larger issues both networks and MVPDs are facing as the impact of cord-cutting and the explosion of streaming services take a toll. Here’s a look at how several news outlets viewed the outcome of the deal and who they believe came out on top. 

The deal shows that operators will still pay for sports, says Bloomberg. Disney won price increases for its major channels, though not as much as the Burbank, CA-based entertainment giant originally asked, according to Bloomberg’s sources. Altice also agreed to pick up two collegiate sports networks, the people said.

Score one, finally, for ESPN — according to the New York Times. “A very bullish sign for Disney” was how longtime media analyst Michael Nathanson described the payment increases in a research note on Monday. He saw the deal as a step toward changing “the highly negative narrative that has enveloped” ESPN for much of the past two years, with the sports-television giant enduring subscriber losses known as cord-cutting. The previous contract covered seven years.

Walt Disney and its ESPN sports empire still have plenty of muscle in the market — even in an era of cord-cutting and falling ratings, according to the Los Angeles Times. Some analysts had feared that Disney would struggle to secure substantial carriage-fee increases for its ESPN and entertainment channels as the entertainment giant faced its first major test in nearly three years. But the tentative accord that Disney and Altice USA reached on Sunday contained fee increases for Disney’s channels.

Expect more pay-TV providers to pony up for ESPN, says Awful Announcing. Disney’s deal with Altice sent a message to other pay-TV providers nearing negotiations for carriage deals that will run into the next decade: Disney will be putting pressure on you for increased fees for the ESPN family of networks and ABC.

For Disney, Altice was not just another deal; it sent a message for future MVPD negotiations, according to Variety’s analysis. The implications of Disney’s reaching agreement on an affiliate-fee renewal after extended talks with Altice shouldn’t be easily ignored. Even though the deal points aren’t yet known, Altice-Disney needs to be appreciated less for those particulars whenever they emerge and more as an indicator of what comes next for Disney. Altice is just the first of many affiliate deals Disney will begin striking over the coming months with the country’s major pay-TV providers.

Shares in Walt Disney and Altice USA rose on Monday after the tentative deal was struck, according to Investor’s Business Daily. UBS analyst Doug Mitchelson says the outcome appears good for Disney, which he says will likely negotiate next with Verizon Communications.

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