Verizon rips Disney for 'declining viewership' amid carriage spat

With Verizon’s deal to carry Disney-owned networks for its Fios cable customers set to expire on Dec. 31, the telecom giant ripped the ESPN parent for attaching a hefty price tag to its properties despite sagging ratings and subscriber bases.

Both media giants have begun to warn their customers that the networks, which include ESPN, the Disney Channel and local ABC affiliates, could go dark if no resolution is reached by 5 p.m. ET on Monday, Variety reported. Disney aired ads for Fios customers that read, “Don’t lose your shows,” while Verizon contacted its subscribers with an email message on Wednesday.

“Disney is currently proposing that Verizon pay hundreds of millions of dollars more for its programming, despite the fact that many of its key networks are experiencing declining viewership,” the email read. “We’ve given Disney a reasonable offer to continue providing you access to its networks. Unfortunately, as of today, they have rejected our offers and there is a possibility that we won’t be able to reach an agreement with them prior to our contract expiration on December 31, 2018 at 5pm EST.”

ESPN has long been one of Disney’s most profitable properties, but the cable sports network has lost millions of subscribers in recent years amid the “cord-cutting” trend, forcing Disney executives to restructure the network and slash jobs. However, ESPN holds rights to several high-profile sporting events, including College Football Playoff games that regularly rank among the highest-rated programs of the year.

Verizon had about 4.6 million paid subscribers as of 2017.

“We are actively negotiating with Disney to ensure the best deal for our customers,” Verizon said in a statement addressing the situation.

Disney said it has a “proven history of providing extraordinary value to consumers,” adding that negotiations with Verizon were still active.

“Our proven history of providing extraordinary value to consumers and distributors is unmatched,” Disney said. “Our negotiations continue in earnest and we remain optimistic that we can reach a deal.”