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Disney, Spectrum direct customers to other TV services as dispute keeping ESPN off air continues

NEW YORK (AP) — Both sides of a dispute that has left nearly 15 million cable TV subscribers without ESPN or other networks affiliated with The Walt Disney Co. are directing customers to other services where they can watch television.

The offers speak to the unusual nature of the business dispute between Disney and Charter Communications, and doesn't auger a quick resolution.

Charter is telling its Spectrum TV customers about a special deal being offered by the Fubo live television streaming service to get two months at discounts of 25% or 30%, depending on the plan.

“I've covered carriage disputes for more years than I would like to remember, and I don't recall a TV provider ever offering its customers a discount to another TV provider during a channel blackout,” wrote journalist Phillip Swann, who runs tvanswerman.com.

Spectrum had no comment Tuesday on the offer's implications.

Disney, meanwhile, is also offering upset Spectrum customers online links to sign up for other services, like Hulu, Fubo, Sling and YouTubeTV. A Disney representative said that “discussions continue” with Charter and had no other updates.

The business battle resulted in ESPN, ABC, FX, National Geographic and Disney-branded stations going abruptly dark on Thursday night for Charter’s Spectrum TV subscribers. ABC-TV was also cut in seven markets, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Carriage disputes, involving what cable or satellite customers will pay to carry specific networks on their systems, are not uncommon.

Yet Charter is arguing that the number of people cutting off their cable subscriptions over the past few years means the business is changing rapidly, and any new deal must reflect that. It wants Disney to give customers more flexibility to restrict “bundling,” which requires them to pay for networks they don't necessarily want. It also wants Disney to offer its ad-supported streaming services for free as part of the deal, saying it has moved some of its best TV programming over to streaming.

Charter, which has broadband as well as cable customers, is anticipating a day when ESPN transitions to a direct-to-consumer streaming service, said analyst Rich Greenfield of Lightshed Partners.

“Could this end up being a watershed event for the linear TV business that also blows up the entire sports media ecosystem?" Greenfield wrote in an analysis. “Sure. However, we have lived through enough of these battles to know that they usually end in an agreement.”