About 850,000 Charter Communications Inc. subscribers will lose ESPNews in an
escalation of the two companies' dispute over streaming of the network.
The two sides had been negotiating an affiliation deal for several months in
which Charter sough restrictions on the amount of video ESPNews could stream
over the Internet, essentially competing with Charter.
A month ago, ESPN and Charter agreed that they were at an impasse and told
Charter they would deauthorize the sports-news network's signal at midnight
Friday. Charter notified customers and franchise officials 30 days in advance,
as required, and made contingency plans to substitute channels like National
Geographic Television or TechTV (owned by Charter controlling shareholder Paul
But ESPN backtracked and in a letter delivered Thursday told Charter chairman
Jerry Kent it would leave the signal alone. Kent said he didn't want to put his
subscribers through false starts or back out on his commitment to other
networks, so he prepped to take ESPNews off most of the systems. ESPNews is
distributed to 1.2 million of Charter's 7 million subscribers.
Charter agreed to keep ESPNews on systems where it's carried on digital tiers
(where Charter has room to spare to keep it on). But on analog tiers, the
network was to go dark.
'These guys shouldn't have told me this 30 days ago,' Kent said. 'What am I
going to do, go back on my word to those other vendors? We made other plans, we
got past the point of no return.'
ESPN senior vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Sean Bratches
said he offered to allow Charter to go on a month-to-month deal three weeks ago.
He added that ESPN had also made some concessions on the amount of the network's
content that would get streamed on the Web, but Kent was not impressed.
'We had what we perceived to be a lot of productive dialogue,' Bratches said.
'What we're getting back is that they're electing to take us