Since its inception, YouTube TV has been notorious for picking fights with its content providers. However, its latest game of “chicken” with industry stalwart Disney could leave many YouTube TV customers wondering if it might be time to look for other options.
YouTube announced that its distribution agreement with Disney will expire on December 17 unless renewed. If no agreement is reached, YouTube TV customers would lose access to a host of popular channels, including ABC, all of the Disney and ESPN variants, Freeform, FX, and National Geographic.
For YouTube TV customers, this drill has become familiar by now. The Disney dispute is the latest in a string of hardball negotiations in which YouTube has threatened that its customers could lose access to popular streaming channels. Most recently, YouTube settled a similar dispute with NBCUniversal that threatened customers’ access to various channels, including NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, E!, and various NBC Sports channels.
YouTube TV has also notably dropped access to various popular regional sports networks. In October 2020, YouTube TV dropped Fox Regional Sports Networks from its service after a protracted dispute with Sinclair Broadcasting Group; YouTube TV has also dropped popular local sports networks including YES Networks in greater New York and the New England Sports Networks (NESN) that carried local professional sports teams such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Boston Bruins.
The constant uncertainty over what content they will have access to undoubtedly comes as a great frustration to YouTube TV customers, many of whom likely switched from tried-and-true but more expensive content options like Comcast/Xfinity, Charter/Spectrum, and Cox. However, despite the more reliable service they moved away from, many of these customers will be reluctant to go back to high-priced content options being offered by their former providers.
As a result, the most recent dispute could push many YouTube TV customers to decide the time is right to “DIY” their content by picking and choosing their content choices individually through streaming services such as Disney+, ESPN+, Peacock, Paramount+, and the like. And a host of mini-bundles are also cropping up: Hulu/Disney+/ESPN+ or Showtime+.
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One saving grace for YouTube TV – and other streaming services – is that demand for access to live, local stations to get local weather and sports on a widescreen TV remains strong. With unprecedented access to various content sources, that ultimately may be the final barrier preventing many customers from moving completely into a “DIY” mode.