Time Warner Inks Disney Deal

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Time Warner Cable and Disney reached a comprehensive multiyear distribution agreement that will extend retransmission consent for the ABC-owned broadcast television stations carried in Time Warner Cable markets, while continuing to afford distribution for varied cable networks, including a host of ESPN services, Disney Channel and ABC Family.

The pact, terms of which were not disclosed, also calls for Time Warner to launch college network ESPNU and ESPN2 HD.

Moreover, the parties announced that select systems will carry Disney Channel on Demand and ESPN Deportes.

The pact will provide a big boost for ESPNU, which will add some 7.5 million Time Warner digital-basic customers in lifting the service’s total subscriber base to nearly 18 million, according to an ESPN spokeswoman. The rollout of ESPN Deportes will initially come on Spanish-language tiers. The parties will work system-by-system for broader distribution.

Currently, Cablevision Systems and Verizon Communications’ FiOS TV service offer Disney Channel on Demand, 20 hours of monthly programming, one-half of which is refreshed. For its part, Cablevision charges customers for the package, while the telco incorporates it as part of its video offering.

Additionally, a trio of new HD services -- ABC Family HD, Disney Channel HD and ESPNEWS HD -- will be positioned on the operator’s systems when the networks bow next year.

Another element of the agreement will push various Disney fare to Time Warner’s Start Over platform, which enables some of its digital-cable subscribers to restart certain live in-progress programming without preplanning or the aid of recording devices.

The Disney networks will also provide content, ranging from 2-10 minutes, to Time Warner’s Quick Clips platform.

Almost seven years ago, Time Warner and Disney were engaged in a nasty, high-profile retransmission fight when the operator pulled the signals for ABC stations reaching some 3.5 million of its customers in New York; Los Angeles; Houston; Fresno, Calif.; and Toledo, Ohio. The stations were off the air for 39 hours during the sweeps period of May 1 and 2, 2000 -- a move that sparked a furor and a reprimand from the Federal Communications Commission.

As part of an agreement that was reached later in May 2000, Time Warner secured carriage of 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 that time, according to sources familiar with the situation. Those pacts have now been renewed under Wednesday’s far-reaching pact.

In announcing the deal, Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, said in a prepared statement: “This milestone agreement combines Disney’s world-renowned brands with Time Warner Cable’s outstanding distribution platforms throughout the country.”

George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, added, “Together, The Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Cable will provide leading sports, family, news and entertainment content for a fantastic and diverse consumer experience.”

Glenn Britt, CEO of Time Warner Cable, noted in a prepared statement: “This agreement will give our customers access to an even wider array of sports and high-definition programming. It will also allow us to expand our Start Over and Quick Clips services. Start Over has proven to be one of the most attractive advanced video features we’ve ever offered.”

To that end, college football, auto racing, X Games, horse racing, lacrosse, bowling and poker will be among the ESPN fare available to Start Over subscribers.

On the entertainment side, a spokeswoman said SOAPnet will supply ABC-owned soaps GeneralHospital and All My Children; Toon Disney will serve up Get Ed and Yin Yang Yo; and ABC Family will offer original drama series like Kyle XY and LincolnHeights.

Popular Disney Channel shows Hannah Montana, The Suite Life ofZack and Cody and Cory in the House will be Start Over-accessible, while the service’s preschool block, Playhouse Disney, will present Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Little Einsteins and the upcoming My Friends Tigger and Pooh.

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