Shining light on the complex program licensing negotiations currently unfolding between Altice USA and Disney, Bloomberg reports that the programmer is pushing for carriage of college-focused regional sports channels SEC Network and ACC Network.
Altice is negotiating with Disney to renew a deal carved out with the programmer in 2012 by the New York-area cable operator Altice acquired last year, Cablevision.
Earlier this week, BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield pondered the programmer’s ability to lock in its going rate for ESPN—which approaches $8 a sub—with an Altice management group that is aware of the channel’s recent erosion.
But as Bloomberg reports, not only is Disney being challenged to maintain its rate card on the flagship ESPN, it’s also working to secure carriage for satellite regional sports networks. While the ACC Network includes coverage of local school Syracuse, the Southeastern-focused SEC Network must seem a questionable fit for the operator of a New York-area cable system serving around 2.4 million subscribers in the region.
“Our proven history of providing extraordinary value to consumers and distributors is unmatched,” ESPN said in a statement. “Our negotiations continue in earnest and we remain optimistic that we can reach a deal.”
Added Altice in its own statement: “We are always working hard to keep these costs as low as possible for consumers by negotiating carriage agreements that are reasonable and in the best interest of all our customers.”
Disney’s contract with Altice expires at the end of the month.
Disney is still generating around $7.5 billion in annual carriage fees for ESPN, but distribution has declined from 100 million U.S. homes in 2011 to a current level of around 87 million.
With Disney facing several tense rounds of renewal talks with pay-TV operators, companies like Altice are looking at ESPN with a fresh perspective.
Certainly, not having the leading national sports network would cause many subscribers in the operator’s New York-area footprint to flee to rival Verizon FiOS. But ESPN’s carriage rate is widely seen as being bloated by outsized broadcast licensing deals with sports leagues like the NFL. Meanwhile, the network’s value to the pay-TV ecosystem is being further challenged by Disney’s plans to take major components of the network a la carte.