It’s the first major blackout for YouTube TV over a carriage-fee dispute in its nearly five-year history (although YouTube TV dropped 19 Fox regional sports networks owned by Sinclair last year). Google said it will reduce YouTube TV’s monthly price by $15 — from $64.99 to $49.99 — now that the Disney nets have gone dark.
Disney’s previous pact with Google’s YouTube TV for ABC-owned TV stations, ESPN networks, Disney channels, Freeform, the FX networks and the National Geographic channels expired Friday (Dec. 17) at 11:59 p.m. ET.
“We’ve held good-faith negotiations with Disney for several months. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we’ve been unable to reach an equitable agreement before our existing one expired, and their channels are no longer available on YouTube TV,” Google said in a statement. “We will be decreasing our monthly price by $15, from $64.99 to $49.99, while this content remains off of our platform.”
Google added, “We know this is frustrating news for our customers, and not what we wanted. We will continue conversations with Disney to advocate on your behalf in hopes of restoring their content on YouTube TV.” Current YouTube TV members will see the $15 credit applied to their next bill after Dec. 17.
Even with the 23% price reduction, YouTube TV is sure to lose a truckload of irate subscribers over the blackout. In particular, the service is losing ESPN, the priciest cable network on the pay-TV dial, just as college bowl season kicks off.
Disney pointed the finger of blame at Google.
“We’ve been in ongoing negotiations with Google’s YouTube TV and unfortunately, they have declined to reach a fair deal with us based on market terms and conditions,” Disney said in a statement to Variety. “As a result, their subscribers have lost access to our unrivaled portfolio of networks including live sports and news plus kids, family and general entertainment programming from ABC, the ESPN networks, the Disney channels, Freeform, the FX networks and the National Geographic channels.”
Disney continued, “We stand ready to reach an equitable agreement with Google as quickly as possible in order to minimize the inconvenience to YouTube TV viewers by restoring our networks. We hope Google will join us in that effort.”
The dispute has revolved around money: Google had claimed that Disney was demanding higher fees for its TV networks than “services of a similar size pay,” the internet giant said Monday, when the disagreement became public. In a blog post, YouTube also noted that customers could sign up for the Disney Bundle ($13.99/month) for access to Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and Hulu on-demand with ads.
YouTube TV is one of the U.S.’s biggest internet pay-TV services with more than 4 million subscribers, according to analyst estimates. Alphabet (parent company of Google) last reported that YouTube TV had more than 3 million customers as of Q3 2020.
Note that among YouTube TV’s direct competitors is Hulu + Live TV — which is controlled and majority owned by Disney. As of the September quarter, Hulu had 4.0 million live TV customers, up 300,000 sequentially but down from 4.1 million in the year-earlier period. Starting Dec. 21, the price of Hulu + Live TV packages will rise $5/month with the non-optional additions of Disney Plus and ESPN Plus.
The Disney-owned channels that have gone dark on YouTube TV include: local ABC channels; ABC News Live; Disney Channel; Disney Junior; Disney XD; Freeform; FX; FXX; FXM; National Geographic; National Geographic Wild; ESPN; ESPN2; ESPN3 (via the ESPN app); ESPNU; ESPNews; SEC Network; and ACC Network.
In addition, YouTube TV subscribers have lost access to any previous DVR recordings from the Disney channels.
Google had a similar standoff NBCUniversal earlier this fall involving a deal for NBCU cable networks and local NBC stations; before the companies came to an agreement, Google had been prepared to cut $10 off the monthly price of YouTube TV if the NBCU channels went dark. Meanwhile, last week Roku and Google settled their differences over distribution terms for core YouTube and YouTube TV apps on the Roku platform, more than seven months after YouTube TV was removed from Roku’s Channel Store.
Shortly after the Disney-Google deal expired Friday night, YouTube had already scrubbed all of the Mouse House’s networks from its channel lineup listings.