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ESPN, ABC blackout on YouTube TV ends with new distribution deal

Two men play basketball on a court
The YouTube TV blackout of Disney-owned channels came Friday night during ESPN’s coverage of the Los Angeles Lakers-Minnesota Timberwolves, seen here during a game in February in Minneapolis.
(AP)

YouTube TV’s blackout of ESPN, ABC and other Walt Disney Co.-owned channels ended Sunday when the two media giants reached a deal on a new distribution agreement.

Nearly 4 million YouTube TV subscribers nationwide were affected.

Sports fans who subscribed to the service, which is owned by search giant Google, were livid about the outage, which began Friday night in the middle of ESPN’s broadcast of a Los Angeles Lakers-Minnesota Timberwolves’ basketball game.

Hundreds of subscribers took to Twitter to denounce the disruption and the corporate wrangling behind it.

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“Worst timing ever! You did this during Bowl season, NBA Christmas games, and NFL playoff races!? So disappointing,” one YouTube TV subscriber wrote in a Twitter message Saturday. Another subscriber added: “Might go full circle back to cable now.”

The blackout lasted just 39 hours.

“We are pleased to announce that after a brief disruption, we have reached a new distribution agreement with Google’s YouTube TV for continued carriage of our portfolio of networks,” Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution said Sunday afternoon in a statement.

“We appreciate Google’s collaboration to reach fair terms that are consistent with the market, and we’re thrilled that our robust lineup of live sports and news plus kids, family and general entertainment programming is in the process of being restored to YouTube TV subscribers across the country,” the division of the Burbank entertainment behemoth said.

Neither Disney nor Google’s YouTube disclosed deal terms, or identified the sticking points that derailed the contract talks Friday.

The previous distribution contract ended at 8:59 p.m. PST on Friday, and without a new deal in place YouTube did not have authorization to continue carrying the Disney-owned channels.

“We’re happy to share that we’ve reached an agreement with Disney to return their content to YouTube TV while preserving a $64.99/mo. price for our members,” YouTube said in a statement. “For members who were impacted and have initiated the cancellation process, we would love to welcome you back.”

The two sides telegraphed early last week that they were struggling to reach a new distribution contract for the 18 Disney-owned channels, including FX, Disney Jr. and National Geographic Channel. The Disney lineup makes up about one-fifth of the more than 85 channels that YouTube TV provides to its customers.

The blackout comes as ESPN’s coverage of college football bowl games lies ahead.

YouTube TV is one of the most successful digital providers of pay-TV channels. It also competes head to head with the Disney-owned Hulu live TV service.

In October, Google and NBCUniversal went down to the wire on a deal to keep NBC’s portfolio of channels, including MSNBC, Bravo and E!, on YouTube TV. Those negotiations did not result in a blackout.

Historically, Disney has avoided blackouts because pay TV providers have been unwilling to risk the wrath of angry sports fans. The power of Disney’s networks gives it ample leverage to seek higher carriage fees in negotiations.

Hoping to contain the fallout from the ABC and ESPN blackout, YouTube also said it would honor its $15 discount that it had offered YouTube TV subscribers — even though the outage lasted less than two days.

“We apologize for the disruption and appreciate your patience as we continued to negotiate on your behalf,” YouTube said. “We also value Disney’s partnership and willingness to work towards an agreement.”


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