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AT&T and Disney are in a turf war over ESPN

The media giants are striving to negotiate a new contract as the TV landscape continues to shift.


Brenden Gallagher


It was the pop-up warning heard ’round the football world.

During Monday Night Football this week, viewers watching on DirecTV and AT&T TV Now received a warning that Disney and AT&T are negotiating a new contract. Disney’s contract with AT&T is set to expire soon, and if it runs out, Disney could take its channels—including ESPN, the Disney Channel, Freeform, and local ABC affiliates—off AT&T’s services, Sports Business Journal reported.

Regarding the contractual negotiations, ESPN provided the following statement to the Daily Dot: “Our contract with AT&T for the ABC, ESPN, Disney, and Freeform networks is due to expire soon, so we have a responsibility to make our viewers aware of the potential loss of our programming. However, we remain fully committed to reaching a deal and are hopeful we can do so.” The Daily Dot has reached out to ESPN for additional comment and will update this story accordingly.

AT&T provided the following statement to the Daily Dot: “We’re disappointed to see The Walt Disney Co. put their viewers into the middle of negotiations. We are on the side of consumer choice and value and want to keep Disney channels and owned-and-operated local ABC stations in eight cities in our customers’ lineups. We hope to avoid any interruption to the services some of our customers care about. Our goal is always to deliver the content our customers want at a value that also makes sense to them. We’ll continue to fight for that here and appreciate their patience while we work this matter out.”

There have been a number of similar blackouts recently, as AT&T has driven a hard bargain with broadcasters such as Nexstar and CBS. As cord cutting becomes commonplace, broadcasters and providers have different ideas about who should bear the financial burden of a shrinking cable TV market.

AT&T and Disney are also poised to go head-to-head in the streaming wars as HBO Max and Disney+ gear up for launch. It’s hard to imagine the two will play nice as they compete with Netflix for dominance in the growing streaming field.

This article has been updated with a statement from ESPN.


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