Disney owned channels go dark on YouTube TV

By Matt Collins Article may include affiliate links

Disney owned channels have gone dark on YouTube TV after the two companies could not reach an agreement on carriage fees.

This is the first time YouTube TV, which is owned by Google parent Alphabet, has pulled channels from its lineup over rate disputes.

Channels included in the blackout include ABC stations, ESPN networks, Freeform, FX networks and National Geographic, among others. The ESPN outage hits at a particularly bad time given that college football bowl season is kicking off.

The channels went dark on Dec. 17, 2021, at 11:59 p.m.

YouTube TV subscribers also lost access to all content on the associated networks that had been recorded via the service’s cloud DVR feature, even if it was recorded prior to the blackout. That typically doesn’t happen with more traditional cable and satellite providers’ DVR offerings.

As is typical with these retransmission disputes, both sides are blaming the other — with YouTube saying Disney is demanding higher fees than is reasonable and Disney saying YouTube doesn’t want to pay enough for its content.

YouTube TV has, like it promised before narrowly avoiding a potential NBCUniversal blackout earlier in 2021, offered to lower the cost of its service.

In this case it has said it will drop from $64.99 to $49.99 a month for as long as the Disney networks are off its platform. Existing customers will see a $15 credit on their next bill.

YouTube TV has taken the somewhat unusual move of proactively offering users discounts when it comes to retrans disputes, which is an interesting negotiation strategy since it essentially tells customers what YouTube TV considers the channels in question are worth.

Typically carriage fee agreements are confidential and there are a variety of factors that go into them, but one could extrapolate that YouTube is currently paying Disney no more than $15 for all of its channels.

ESPN and other sports networks tend to be one of the most expensive channels for TV providers to carry. YouTube TV previously dropped 19 of Sinclair’s Fox branded regional sports networks (which have since been rebranded under the Bally Sports name), but, at least according to YouTube, was done as a way to keep its pricing competitive.

Estimates say that YouTube TV probably has around 4 million subscribers as of 2021; the last public report said it was around 3 million in Q3 of 2020.

This notably puts it squarely in competition with Hulu and its live TV offering as well as the “Disney Bundle” that includes Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+. Disney owns a majority stake in Hulu.

Google, meanwhile, is suggesting that users looking to watch Disney content sign up for the bundle.

Viewers looking to get access to ad supported access to the most of the same content dropped from YouTube TV would have to pay $13.99 a month (though this essentially is more of an on demand service since it doesn’t include access to live TV or local ABC stations’ programming, including local news or DVR features).

To get the equivalent to what YouTube TV offers, users would have to fork over $72.99 a month for the top tier Hulu + Live TV and Disney Bundle, which, notably, would essentially make a YouTube TV subscription duplicative. This tier also includes cloud DVR, but it’s limited to 50 hours of storage, unlike YouTube TV’s unlimited storage for at least 9 months after the program originally aired (there is an upgrade option to increase storage to 200 hours).