College football fans who subscribe to ESPN were likely stunned this weekend when they tried to tune on to games on ESPN’s family of Networks and find ESPN and the whole related suite of channels missing from Sling TV. This problem was repaired Monday with a “handshake” agreement between the two companies that restored the full lineup of Disney-owned properties that includes the ESPN family of networks along with FX, Freeform, Nat Geo, and Disney’s many linear channels.
The move this Saturday was a power move of sorts by Disney meaning that people awoke to find they could not access College Game Day or follow the action of the day as it unfolded across the many sports channels offered by Disney. This included a too close for comfort comeback victory by the Georgia Bulldogs on the SEC Network.
Media companies with sports rights often hold football over the heads of service providers like a sword of Damocles of sorts. It should not be considered a coincidence that channel disputes involving broadcast networks always seem to come to a head as the fall and the kickoff of the NFL season approaches. There is no telling exactly how fans reacted in an official capacity with Sling TV, but the risk for Sling and other services who have no contracts with their customers is that such a loss of programming can quickly prompt users to jump to a competing service with the click of a button. This is very different from traditional TV providers who have the luxury of simply telling their customers sorry we are doing everything we can and in the meantime, we got two words for you!
When it comes to disputes with ESPN, Dish/Sling, YouTube TV, VidGo, and fubo have to be almost instantly answerable to their customers. We left Hulu With Live TV off that list because Hulu is a Disney Property that will not lose ESPN under any circumstances. Though negotiations between Disney and other major media properties could force even the house of mouse into some touchy situations. Just not ESPN.
Does the return of Disney’s channels mean that Sling TV will have to raise prices in order to balance things out? As of right now there are no announcements. Sling TV may do better to reduce the channels its offers then bump up its prices. Sling TV has a very different structure than other services that it competes with famously avoiding offering local affiliates of major networks, which like sports are a big cost driver for TV services. Companies like Philo and FRNDLY offer TV packages without sports, news and the major broadcast networks as a fraction of the price of the larger packages that include them.
Is there enough fat to cut on Sling TV’s channel listings that won’t cause it to lose subscribers who are loyal to something else?
I would look to expect a price increase to be announced somewhere in the near future and possibly a shuffling of how its add-ons work.