Disney, Comcast ink carriage deal

Pact heavy on multiplatform extensions

Walt Disney Co. has reached a wide-ranging affiliate deal with Comcast that will keep its programming not only on the air but on other screens.

An existing pact between the two congloms for the Disney Media Networks, which include ABC Family and Disney Channel, actually expired at the close of 2011, and the renewal was sealed then but not announced until Wednesday morning.

Though a separate deal for ESPN-branded channels and the ABC broadcast network wasn’t due to expire, their renewal was rolled up into this new pact. ESPN itself is the most expensive channel on the dial for MSOs, projected to surpass $5 per subscriber per month this year.

Neither financial terms of the deal nor its duration were disclosed, but it is believed to keep 70 different Disney video services on Comcast through 2022. That could translate to more than $20 billion in revenues over the life of the pact, according to analyst estimates.

Affiliate fees, particularly from ESPN, are the biggest profit driver for Disney. A key component of the deal is adding both live and VOD content to Comcast’s digital platform, Xfinity TV. Comcast subs will be able to watch select Disney-owned linear channels on wireless devices out of home by providing a password to the website. In addition to that authentication element, Disney will boost the volume of VOD content available on Xfinity TV.

Comcast will also get access to the WatchESPN iPad app and launch a new channel, Disney Junior, aimed at preschool-age viewers as part of the pact.

In addition, the deal also encompasses retransmission consent fees for seven ABC-owned TV stations in major markets.

“This landmark deal is a great example of what can be achieved when programmers and distributors collaborate and innovate together to meet the ever-evolving needs of consumers and enhance the viewing experience,” said Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks.

Last month, Morgan Stanley projected that ESPN revenue alone would drive cable net affiliate revenue growth of about 8% annually for Disney from 2012-15.

Comcast represents the latest in a string of recent renewals for the sports network; Disney last year came to terms with Time Warner Cable, Verizon and Brighthouse.

Comcast and Disney’s last major carriage deal, in 2006, marked the beginning of the Mouse House’s selloff of E! Networks, which Comcast owns entirely today. Comcast nearly acquired Disney in 2004 but backed off when the companies couldn’t agree on terms.

While a 10-year deal is unusually long for an affiliate deal, Comcast signed an agreement of similar length last year with CBS Corp.

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