YouTube TV lost ESPN, ABC and all other Disney channels

All channels ABC and went dark on TV late Friday after a breakdown in distribution negotiations between Disney and Google.

The financial dispute between the media giants over carriage fees has led to the first major blackout for Google-owned TV, which has more than 3 million subscribers and is one of the nation’s largest Internet pay-TV services. Disney and Google, whose parent company is Alphabet, were unable to reach a new deal by 11:59 p.m. Eastern time.

“We worked hard to avoid this but were unable to reach a fair deal with Disney,” YouTube TV tweeted Saturday. “We regret to share that as of December 17, all Disney-owned channels are unavailable on YouTube TV.”

Content affected by the lapsed agreement includes ABC-owned TV stations, ESPN networks and Disney channels. Freeform, the FX networks and National Geographic channels have also been removed.

YouTube TV announced it would cut its monthly subscription rate by $15 while Disney content is off the air, going from $64.99 to $49.99.

“We know how frustrating it is to lose channels like ESPN and your local ABC station, and will continue conversations with Disney in hopes of restoring their content for you,” YouTube TV tweeted.

A Disney spokesperson told The Washington Post that Google was to blame for costing their subscribers “access to our unrivaled portfolio of networks including live sports and news.”

“We’ve been in ongoing negotiations with Google’s YouTube TV and unfortunately, they have declined to reach a fair deal with us based on market terms and conditions,” the company said in a written statement. “We stand ready to reach an equitable agreement with Google as quickly as possible in order to minimize the inconvenience to YouTube TV viewers by restoring our networks. We hope Google will join us in that effort.”

The two sides being unable to reach a megadeal is the latest wrinkle in the streaming wars among media titans buying and stockpiling content — a multibillion-dollar arms race to keep customers tuned in to their platform for the long haul.

The move figures to be a significant blow for YouTube TV’s live sports offerings, which had included ESPN’s package of NBA, NHL and NCAA broadcasts, as well the NFL’s “Monday Night Football.” The timing of ESPN’s departure comes just as college football’s bowl season gets underway.

YouTube TV surpassed 3 million subscribers as of late 2020, according to Alphabet. Since then, some financial analysts believe that subscription number has now eclipsed 4 million, which would make it the largest Internet-delivered TV bundle.

Disney acknowledged Monday that its distribution deal with Google was set to expire but that the company was “optimistic” a deal could be done. YouTube TV claimed in a blog post this week that Disney had demanded higher fees for its TV networks than “services of a similar size pay.”

“Disney is an important partner for us,” the company wrote. “Our ask of Disney, as with all of our partners, is to treat YouTube TV like any other TV provider — by offering us the same rates that services of a similar size pay, across Disney’s channels for as long as we carry them.”

YouTube TV also told its subscribers that if a deal was unable to come together, “you can consider signing up for their own service, the Disney Bundle, which they offer for $13.99/month.”

It’s not the first time this year that Google has had a standoff with a media company over distribution. In the fall, Google’s deal with NBCUniversal’s cable networks and local NBC stations was set to expire. The companies were able to reach a new agreement quickly. A similar disagreement was resolved last week with Roku over differences in distribution terms for YouTube and YouTube TV apps.

Similar disputes have arisen between content providers and cable TV service companies, resulting in channels being pulled. Those disputes normally clear up within days.

The impasse between Disney and YouTube TV has the potential to benefit Disney in the lucrative world of live sports. One of YouTube TV’s direct competitors, and perhaps its most serious, is Hulu + Live TV, which is controlled and majority owned by Disney. Hulu had 4 million live TV subscribers as of September, according to Variety.

When the deal lapsed at midnight, YouTube TV subscribers watching the Friday night NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Minnesota Timberwolves were surprised and confused as to why the broadcast had gone black in the middle of the game. Other cord-cutters were frustrated that they had to scramble to sign up for a new service to watch the dozens of college football bowl games in the coming weeks.

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