ESPN is back on the air after a 12-day-long dispute between Disney and Charter Communications led to the sports network — along with other Disney-owned channels — going dark on Spectrum cable TV.
Disney and Charter struck a new agreement that shakes up the traditional relationship between a media company and distributor, with some Spectrum subscribers getting access to Disney+ and ESPN+, depending on their plan, and Spectrum dropping eight Disney cable networks.
The new deal underscores the idea that even as Disney focuses on streaming services and going after consumers directly, it is still beholden to large cable TV players. ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, said as much.
“ESPN has benefited tremendously from the pay TV ecosystem, and while the company is thinking about streaming, it isn’t giving up the golden goose yet,” Pitaro said.
His comments suggests Disney would tread lightly with its ambitions to launch a streaming service that included its flagship ESPN, which is far more robust than the current ESPN+ service. One of the big questions with Disney has been the timing of the ESPN streaming services, which Disney CEO Bob Iger has said is a matter of “when, not if.”
ESPN is one of the key properties on cable TV and one of the reasons subscribers stick around for the service. A standalone streaming version of ESPN could be a threat to cable, which is why disputes like the one with Spectrum will be common down the line. Pitaro said the Disney agreement keeps that “golden goose” alive.
“The first (priority) was protecting the traditional business model, one that’s been very, very good to us and continues to be good to us,” he told the Hollywood Reporter.
He added that the agreement with Charter to offer some customers ESPN+ will help ease its way towards the flagship ESPN service, as it gets more people comfortable with streaming.
A spokesperson for ESPN wasn’t immediately available to comment further on Pitaro’s remarks.