Disney and Verizon Fios went public with a dispute over programming fees that, if not resolved within days, could deprive millions of football fans nationwide access to big playoff games.
Disney moved first on Wednesday, appealing with ads to Fios’ TV customers featuring the logos of its ABC, ESPN and Disney Channel networks.
“These networks may soon be gone,” the ads declared in a plea for customers to call Verizon “to keep the networks you are paying for!”
Verizon fired back with its own TV-broadcast “update” — accusing Disney of “proposing that Verizon pay hundreds of millions of dollars more for its programming, despite the fact that many of its key networks are experiencing declining viewership.”
Hanging in the balance for Fios’ 4.5 million TV subscribers are the College Football Playoff semifinals, an NFL wild-card game and a bunch of postseason bowl contests. That’s not to mention popular ABC series like “Modern Family” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
“It’s a no-win situation,” sports marketer Ben Sturner said of the tiff, which could end in a blackout after the companies’ current contract expires on Dec. 31. “And it’s going to stay that way unless somebody blinks.”
Posturing over programming fees is common as content providers try to increase rates to cover production costs and content distributors try to keep rates in check to quell cord-cutting.
Recent skirmishes, however, have grown more intense and complex.
Dish still hasn’t settled with Univision after removing the Spanish-language network from satellite distribution in June, and its chairman has said it probably never will.
In April, Disney launched ESPN+ — a streaming service that piggybacks on ESPN content — for $4.99 month.
That’s almost a 40 percent discount to the $8.14 a month that, according to SNL Kagan, Disney charges pay-TV distributors for each of their ESPN subscribers.