Dish, Disney deal a win for both sides
LOS ANGELES -- Media analysts and investors Tuesday cheered a newly signed accord between the Walt Disney Co. and Dish, the nation’s No. 3 pay-TV provider, that ends fighting over a controversial ad-skipping feature and includes advances in how digital television rights are handled.
The two companies announced a long-term distribution deal late Monday. Under the agreement Dish will disable its AutoHop ad-skipping function for ABC, which Disney owns, for three days after programs are initially shown - a concession of critical importance to ABC and other broadcasters as they seek to protect advertiser revenue.
Dish, which has 14 million subscribers, also obtained something it badly wanted from Disney: The entertainment conglomerate, whose channels include ESPN, ABC Family and Disney Channel, gave Dish the ability to offer its programming over the web, Netflix style, which would be a first for a U.S. cable or satellite provider.
Disney shares climbed about 3 percent Tuesday, to close at $81.71. Dish shares rose about 1 percent, to $59.56.
"Bigger and broader than what was expected" is how Michael Nathanson, an analyst at MoffettNathanson, summed up the deal.
Nathanson noted that Dish agreed to carry Disney’s Watch apps, which allow for live and on-demand viewing of television programming on mobile devices. More important, he said, Dish agreed to carry Disney’s fledgling college sports channel, the SEC Network, which will most likely "put pressure on both Time Warner Cable and Comcast, who have not yet signed up."
Dish will also begin carrying Disney Junior, a channel aimed at preschool children; Fusion, a news and entertainment channel aimed at English-speaking Latinos; and the Longhorn Network, centered on University of Texas athletics.
Nathanson said, "We believe Disney comes out a winner."
Marci Ryvicker, a Wells Fargo analyst, called the contract a "win-win" for both companies, while Michael Morris, a Guggenheim Securities analyst, wrote in a research note that he saw the deal as encouraging for the broader television industry, which is undergoing wrenching change. "The breadth of these ultimately successful negotiations - across networks, platforms and technologies - shows that these major players can find common ground within the existing ecosystem."
Both Dish and Disney positioned the deal’s framework as creating a blueprint for media companies. The contract replaces one that expired in September and was put in place in 2005. Financial terms were not disclosed.
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"The creation of this agreement has really been about predicting the future of television," Joseph Clayton, Dish’s chief executive, said in a statement. Anne Sweeney, co-chairwoman of Disney Media Networks, added that, "We knew early on we had a responsibility with this deal to not only do what was best for our business, but to also position our industry for future growth."
Still, whether other media companies - in particular the broadcast-heavy CBS - will view the deal with such sunniness remains unclear.
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Disney agreed to drop an AutoHop-related lawsuit, but CBS, Fox and NBC are all still suing Dish over the ad-skipping function, which they say violates copyrights and breaches retransmission agreements. Dish has countered with legal action of its own.
In particular, the agreement by Dish to disable AutoHop for three days may be viewed as insufficient. Three days was selected because advertisers pay rates based on viewership of a show’s commercials during the live telecast and during DVR playback for three days thereafter. But broadcasters have been pushing advertisers to pay for programming played back on DVRs up to seven days after initially airing.
A Disney spokesman declined to comment on seven-day playback, which is known as "C7" in the industry. But Todd Juenger, a Bernstein Research analyst, wrote in a research note that, based on carefully vague wording in the Disney-Dish news release, "we believe if the currency measure is extended to C7, Dish would extend the disable of AutoHop for seven days."
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