Disney Inks Big Renewal

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Continuing the movement toward far-reaching, complex carriage pacts among major industry players, Time Warner Cable and The Walt Disney Co. signed a comprehensive, multiyear distribution agreement last week that will extend retransmission consent for the ABC-owned broadcast television stations in the operator's markets.

The deal affords continued linear distribution for the programmer's host of ESPN services, Disney Channel and ABC Family. It also provides for the launch of other networks within Time Warner's footprint and contributes to two new service offerings from the operator, Start Over and Quick Clips.

The pact also calls for Time Warner to launch college network ESPNU and ESPN2 HD. And certain cable systems will carry pay subscription services Disney Channel on Demand and ESPN Deportes.

Neither company would comment on whether any cash changed hands for retransmission consent for the ABC owned-and-operated stations.

BIG DEALS IN VOGUE

Time Warner late last year inked an affiliate accord with News Corp. that encompassed retransmission consent for Fox-owned TV stations, renewals for Fox News Channel and Speed Channel, the launch of Fox Reality and carriage for the upcoming Fox Business Channel.

And Disney, after years of negotiation, reached terms last November with Comcast on a wide-ranging affiliate accord that included the operator acquiring full ownership of E! Networks. Comcast also got on-demand access for hit ABC series and Disney film-studio titles, consent to retransmit seven owned-and-operated ABC stations and renewals for Disney networks. Disney added carriage for SoapNet, got launches for ESPN Deportes and inked an agreement to carry the ESPN HD network.

The latest Time Warner pact provides a big boost to ESPNU, gaining about 7.5 million digital-basic customers and rising to nearly 18 million overall, according to an ESPN spokeswoman.

ESPN Deportes will initially roll out on Time Warner Spanish-language tiers, with the parties working system by system for broader distribution, ESPN said.

Three new HD services — ABC Family HD, Disney Channel HD and ESPNEWS HD — will be positioned on Time Warner systems when they bow next year.

ESPN2 HD's rollout will commence shortly in some Time Warner markets and could be available in all of them within a half a year, ESPN said.

RENEWED AGAIN

In May 2000, Time Warner secured carriage for ABC-owned TV stations until May 2006. The stations — in New York; Los Angeles; Raleigh, N.C.; and Toledo, Ohio — have remained on the air via extension agreements since then, according to people familiar with the situation. Now those pacts have been renewed.

Various Disney fare will join Time Warner's Start Over platform, which enables digital-cable subscribers to restart live in-progress programming without pre-planning or the aid of recording devices. Fare to be made available beginning May 1 to the seven Time Warner systems offering Start Over includes college football, auto racing, X Games and poker. SoapNet will supply ABC-owned daytime dramas General Hospital and All My Children; Toon Disney will serve up Get Ed and Yin Yang Yo; and ABC Family will offer original series like Kyle XY and Lincoln Heights.

Popular Disney Channel shows Hannah Montana, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and Cory in the House will be Start Over-accessible, as will Playhouse Disney preschool shows Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Little Einsteins and the upcoming My Friends Tigger and Pooh.

Disney networks also will provide short-form content — ranging from two to 10 minutes in length — to Time Warner's Quick Clips service.

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