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What Did We Learn From The Charter-Disney Dispute? Things Might Get MORE Complicated

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Disney Plus and Spectrum logos

Today was an interesting day for Spectrum TV customers, but what did we actually learn from the agreement that brought an end to the Charter-Disney dispute? Well, for one thing, that live TV might actually get more complicated in the future.

Since the advent of streaming, getting all the channels and networks that a home wants has become harder. While there is more choice than ever before, and that’s good, the choice has led to companies prioritizing different products and services.

Using Disney as an example, the company has been highly focused on building out its Disney Plus service. This is at the same time as closing out its deal for Hulu, and building a new ESPN streaming service that will act as somewhat of a replacement for the linear ESPN channel.

In fact, this new ESPN service is a prime example of the difficulties now facing the industry. Even though it is beneficial for consumers to have a direct-to-consumer alternative, it lessens the need for homes to sign up for a live TV package that includes ESPN, and that’s a problem for traditional TV companies.

In principle, this was one of the main points Charter was making when it suggested that the current system was broken, and why the company said it was proposing a new model to Disney. One which would integrate direct-to-consumer services with live TV packages.

On the surface, Charter seems to have won in this respect, as Disney appears to have given into one of Charter’s main proposals – bundling Disney Plus (and the new ESPN streaming service) with Spectrum TV Select packages.

So what did we learn from the Charter-Disney deal?

We probably haven’t learned all much from the dispute and deal to be honest, although there are some observations that are worth mentioning. One of which is that cable TV doesn’t seem to be as dead as so many headlines have been suggesting recently.

If anything, this deal between Charter and Disney provides some insight into how the live TV market might evolve in time. Specifically, an even more complicated market where streaming services are more frequently bundled with live TV packages.

We have already seen Disney taking this approach with its Hulu Live TV service, so it is not something that’s totally new. However, with Hulu Live TV, basic Hulu, Disney Plus, and ESPN Plus all in-house services, it makes sense for them to be bundled together.

With the Spectrum deal, we are seeing cable live TV packages and digital streaming services from different companies being bundled together, and without a choice to opt out of the bundling.

If you now sign up for Hulu Live TV or Spectrum TV, you get Disney Plus, whether you want it or not. If history has taught us anything, this likely also means that, given enough time, you’ll probably end up paying for Disney Plus, whether you want it or not.

As part of this latest agreement between Charter and Disney, Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, and the new ESPN service are being advertised as free to Spectrum customers. It would seem that Charter is footing the bill through a higher ‘wholesale’ price. In the long run, however, does anyone actually believe that a price increase won’t be coming at some point?

Even without a price increase, there’s the issue of channels. Again, as part of the latest agreement between Charter and Disney, Spectrum customers are getting their channels back. The problem is, they are not getting all of them back. Essentially, these dropped channels have been swapped out for Disney Plus and the new ESPN service.

If you don’t particularly care much about the dropped channels and consider them a worthy sacrifice, then this won’t be much of an issue for you. However, if access to these channels was part of the reason why you went with the live TV package you did, you’re now in a position where you still need to find a way to access the channels, even though the dispute has ended.

As importantly, this deal now paves the way for other similar deals to be negotiated, and this is where we could end up with a far more confusing landscape where consumers find themselves having to choose between live linear channels and direct-to-consumer streaming services when simply looking for a live TV package.

While the current system is far from perfect, picking a live TV plan based on the channels, and then adding the premium networks you want as add-ons, gives you the choice. If more deals go the way this Charter-Disney deal has, not only might you find it harder to get a live TV plan with the channels you want, but you also might end up paying for additional services you don’t want.

Again, for some, the combining of these products and services might be beneficial, and potentially softer on the wallet. For those that already find streaming too confusing, TV and DTC bundles could lead to an even more confusing situation.

John Finn

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