Disney quietly gives US Open tennis players access to ESPN to watch live match coverage after Spectrum blacks out the channels amid dispute
- Disney is quietly providing US Open players access to its tournament coverage
- The firm pulled ESPN, ABC and its other channels off Spectrum on September 1
- Disney owns Hulu, and is seeking to lure users to their ‘Hulu + Live TV’ package
Disney is quietly providing US Open players access to its tournament coverage amid an ongoing standoff with cable firm Charter Communications.
An ESPN spokesperson on Tuesday confirmed the arrangement – hours after several players complained to the media that he had been unable to view opponents’ matches while in New York.
It’s the latest development in the firm’s spat with the television provider – which began September 1 when Disney suddenly nixed ESPN, ABC and its other channels from Charter’s waning Spectrum service.
The move – made on the eve of college football’s first big games and right in the midst of the Open – was a shrewd one, and a has left nearly 15million US customers without the popular pay-TV channels days before the NFL season.
Some of the best tennis players in the world were caught in the middle, and several spoke out this week after finding themselves unable to tune in because of the companies war over programming fees.
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World No. 3 Daniil Medvedev and 19-year-old phenomenon Coco Gauff have both complained about not being able to watch the tournament as Disney – which also owns Hulu – continues to try to get cable users to cut the cord.
‘I don’t know if it’s legal or illegal, but I have to find a way because I cannot watch [the matches] on TV,’ Daniil Medvedev, the winner of the 2021 tournament, said at a press conference late Monday after advancing to the quarterfinals.
‘I got internet – how do you call it? – pirate websites,’ the Russian national continued, calling attention to the standoff.
‘I watch tennis there. I have no other choice.’
Similarly, Gauff told reporters Tuesday she was frustrated after finding herself unable to rewatch her quarterfinal win over Jelena Ostapenko from her hotel because of the ongoing carriage dispute.
‘I’m not gonna get into that.. but we can’t watch ESPN at our hotel. I saw the scoreline. I didn’t see the match.’
Asked about her takeaways from Ostapenko’s performance, Gauff opted to go the peaceful route by not referencing ESPN’s tiff with Spectrum directly – but seemed to make her disapproval over the situation clear.
‘I saw the scoreline. I didn’t see the match,’ she told reporters of her rival’s performance.
When asked about the programming spat specifically, the Atlanta native said: ‘I’m not gonna get into that.. but we can’t watch ESPN at our hotel.’
Those statements left egg on the figurative face of the media giant that is Disney, which is already weathering duel strikes by Hollywood’s writers and actors.
Hours after Gauff made her comments, a spokesperson for ESPN told The Financial Times the network had begun providing secure logins to The Walt Disney Company app to some Open players, including Medvedev.
Former player and current pundit John McEnroe, meanwhile, was awarded a complimentary ESPN+ subscription to tune in to the Grand Slam, after testing positive for Covid-19 this past week and missing several early-round matches.
A spokesperson said of the famously mercurial 64-year-old: ‘He couldn’t watch and he was going nuts.’
The rep added that Disney – which is likely seeking to lure frustrated cable users to their ‘Hulu + Live TV’ alternative – has also provided logins to some members of the media covering the tournament.
Meanwhile, the war between the two media providers – one waning and one rising – continues, on one of the busiest weeks in the US for live sports.
Moreover, the start of the NFL season is slated for Thursday – with Disney and ESPN holding the sole rights for the league’s weekly Monday Night Football, one of the top-rated weekly broadcasts of the year.
The spat has pitted Charter, a traditional cable carrier fighting to hold on to customers, against Disney, which in 2019 acquired 21st Century Fox and has since made an impassioned push toward direct-to-consumer streaming.
That push culminated recently with amendments to the firm’s $69.99 Get Hulu + Live TV package – which now comes with subscriptions to Disney+ and ESPN+ included.
Still, for millions of Americans who still prefer cable, ESPN – the channel -remains a cornerstone of US sports programming, one that Disney is clearly looking to capitalize on amid its talks with Connecticut-based Charter, which fell flat Friday.
Other cities where Charter Spectrum is the major cable carrier include Dallas/Fort Worth; Orlando, Florida; Tampa, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; St. Louis; Cleveland; Cincinnati; Milwaukee; and Las Vegas.
The dispute is mainly over ESPN, which does not have a streaming service and is a big cable attraction, despite losing subscribers each year to cord-cutting.
ESPN traditionally has had the highest carriage fees for cable companies. According to S&P Global, Disney gets an average of $2.20 billion per year from being carried on Charter Spectrum under its 2019 carriage deal.
Charter flashed a message on screen that urged viewers to contact Disney. ‘We offered Disney a fair deal, yet they are demanding an excessive increase,’ it read.
‘The rising cost of programming is the single greatest factor in higher cable TV prices and we are fighting to hold the line on programming rates imposed on us by companies like Disney.’
Disney fired back in a statement to DailyMail.com saying: ‘Charter has refused to enter into a new agreement with us that reflects market-based terms.’
‘Contrary to their claims, we have offered Charter the most favorable terms on rates, distribution, packaging, advertising and more,’ the statement added.
Charter said on Friday ESPN was the ‘lynchpin’ of its video business. Its shares dropped 3.6 percent, while Disney lost 2.4 percent.
‘Disney might have more to lose than Charter,’ Rosenblatt Securities said, predicting that it could lose billions in profits each year from its traditional TV business if an agreement was not reached.
‘An extended fight with Charter might accelerate Disney’s DTC (direct-to-consumer plans).’
Analysts have said Disney has been reluctant to swiftly roll out a DTC plan for ESPN as it needs cash from its profit engine to fund money-losing streaming service, Disney+.
CEO Bob Iger said in July Disney wants to find a strategic partner for ESPN to form a joint venture or buy a stake to help take it directly to consumers.
‘Charter and Disney are ideal partners to establish hybrid linear TV and direct-to-consumer model,’ Richard DiGeronimo, Charter’s president for products and technology said on Friday.
The company, which serves more than 32 million customers in 41 states, has been paying about $2.2 billion in annual programming costs to the entertainment giant.