More than 15 million customers of Spectrum TV are without dozens of channels owned by the Walt Disney Company after a contract between Disney and Spectrum’s parent company, Charter Communications, expired at the end of August with no new deal in place.
The lapse in Charter’s deal with Disney means Spectrum TV customers in vast parts of the United States have lost access to several Disney-owned channels, including popular sports channels ESPN, ESPN 2 and ESPNews; kid-friendly networks the Disney Channel, Baby TV and Disney Junior; general entertainment channels FX, FXX and Freeform; and several Disney-owned ABC stations in major markets like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
On Friday, Charter said Disney asked it to pay more money for the rights to distribute these and other channels to Spectrum TV subscribers. The request was not unusual — cable and satellite companies have been asked in recent years to pay more money for broadcast and cable channels, with fees inevitably passed on to subscribers in their bills.
What is unusual about this dispute is that Charter says it was willing to pay Disney the higher fees — but it wanted something in exchange: The ability to offer free access to Disney’s streaming services to its Spectrum TV customers. Charter thinks the offer is a win for it, Disney and Spectrum TV subscribers.
Disney doesn’t see things that way, and as of Saturday, it hasn’t accepted Charter’s offer. The end result is that Spectrum TV customers across the United States are no longer able to access the following channels:
- ACC Network
- Baby TV
- Disney Channel
- Disney Junior
- Disney XD
- ESPN 2
- ESPN U
- Longhorn Network
- National Geographic
- Nat Geo Wild
- Nat Geo Mundo
- SEC Network
Additionally, Spectrum TV customers who live in certain areas where Disney owns the local ABC station have also lost access to those channels, including:
- KABC (Channel 7) in Los Angeles
- KFSN (Channel 30) in Fresno, California
- KGO-TV (Channel 7) in San Francisco
- KTRK (Channel 13) in Houston
- WABC (Channel 7) in New York City
- WLS-TV (Channel 7) in Chicago
- WPVI (Channel 6) in Philadelphia
- WTVD (Channel 11) in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
ABC affiliates that are owned by companies other than Disney are not impacted by the dispute, and are still available on Spectrum TV.
The dispute between Charter and Disney is not likely to be resolved anytime soon, as Charter is asking Disney to provide more than just its linear TV channels as part of a novel strategy intended to help boost its dissolving pay television business. Disney, so far, has balked at the request, and is holding firm to its demand for higher fees for its channels, without anything more in exchange.
The dispute between Charter and Disney comes amid several major sports events, including the U.S. Open tournament (broadcast on ESPN and ABC) and the start of college and National Football League (NFL) football, whose games are carried across ABC, ESPN and niche channels like the Longhorn Network, SEC Network and ACC Network. New seasons of television shows like “Archer” on FX and “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC are also slated to premiere this month, but Spectrum TV customers won’t have access to these shows or sports events while the dispute with Disney carries on.
The good news is, there are a number of cheap — and, in some cases, free — ways to watch ABC, ESPN, FX and other Disney-owned channels without Spectrum TV. Here are the best options to watch those channels, with the cheapest option appearing first:
- Watch national ABC shows and local ABC news for free with an antenna
- Watch ABC, ESPN, FX and Disney Channel on Sling TV
- Watch ABC, ESPN, FX and Disney Channel on Vidgo
- Watch ABC, ESPN, FX and Disney Channel on Fubo
- Watch ABC, ESPN, FX and Disney Channel on DirecTV Stream
- Other ways to watch ABC, ESPN, FX and Disney Channel online without Spectrum TV
Watch national ABC shows and local ABC news for free with an antenna
If you just want to watch national ABC shows and local news, there is a good chance your local ABC station can be received for free with a simple TV antenna. A reliable TV antenna receives most local TV stations — including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CW Network, PBS and others — just by connecting it to the back of your TV set, then conducting a simple scan for free broadcast TV channels.
Picking a TV antenna can be tricky, and there are lots of cheap manufacturers making bold claims that antennas can pull in signals from hundreds of miles away (they can’t — at the most, a reliable outdoor antenna can receive signals from up to 65 miles away, while indoor antennas typically pull in signals from 1 to 60 miles away) or receive channels like ESPN and the Disney Channel (those are limited to subscription TV — if those channels are important to you, read on for streaming cable TV alternatives that carry those networks).
For this reason, we’re fans of antennas made and sold by Mohu, a reputable dealer of digital broadcast antennas. Mohu made flat, paper-style antennas popular — they’re the company behind the Leaf antennas found at Amazon and Best Buy — and they have both indoor and outdoor antennas for just about every situation:
- If you live in a major metropolitan city or very close to your local TV broadcast towers, get the Mohu Leaf Metro TV antenna ($25 on Amazon), a flat, indoor antenna that can pull in signals from broadcast towers up to 25 miles away.
- If you live farther away from your local TV transmission towers, or in an area where trees or small buildings may create some issues, get the Mohu Leaf 50 Amplified Indoor Antenna ($60 on Amazon, $60 at Best Buy), a flat, indoor antenna that has the ability to pull in challenging signals from as far away as 60 miles.
- If you live in an area with extremely challenging terrain like mountains or exceptionally tall buildings, or you are very far away from your local TV broadcast towers, you might need to invest in a good outdoor antenna. If that is the case, go with the Mohu Sail Amplified Indoor-Outdoor Antenna ($120 on Amazon), an all-weather antenna that can be placed outdoors that can pull in signals from over 65 miles away, or the Antenna Direct ClearStream Max ($70 at Amazon, $90 at Best Buy), an outdoor antenna that does the same job, but at a lower price. (Antenna Direct owns the Mohu brand.)
Spectrum TV customers who only watch ABC for their local news can find those newscasts streaming for free on apps like Xumo Play and the Roku Channel, which offer live, local news from ABC-owned channels in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh-Durham and Fresno without a subscription.
While an antenna will pull in signals from local ABC stations and many others, it won’t give Spectrum TV customers access to ESPN, FX, Disney Channel or other Disney-owned cable networks. For those channels, you’ll need a streaming cable TV alternative, like the ones listed below…
Watch ABC, ESPN, FX and other Disney channels with Sling TV
Cost: Starts at $40 a month
Has ABC? Yes (only in areas where ABC owns the station)
Has ESPN? Yes (in Sling Orange package)
Has Disney Channel? Yes (in Sling Orange package)
Has FX? Yes (in Sling Blue package)
Has college sports? Some channels, depends on package
Cloud DVR: 50 hours for free, 200 hours for extra fee
Deal: Get 50 percent off your first month at this link
When it comes to streaming cable TV alternatives, Sling TV is the CHEAPEST way to watch ESPN, FX, Disney Channel and ABC stations in major markets without a traditional cable or satellite TV subscription. Sling TV is also the cheapest way for Spectrum TV customers to get access to ESPN, the Disney Channel, ABC and FX online during the dispute with Disney.
Sling TV is able to keep its prices low because it shuffles channels between packages, with customers paying more if they want access to additional channels:
- Customers who want ABC, ESPN and the Disney Channel should subscribe to the Sling Orange package, which costs $40 a month (or $20 a month for the first month if customers sign up by clicking or tapping this link).
- Customers who want FX should subscribe to Sling Blue, which costs $40 a month (or $20 a month for the first month if customers sign up by clicking or tapping this link).
- Customers who want ABC, ESPN, the Disney Channel and FX should subscribe to Sling Orange + Sling Blue, a combo package that offers channels from both tiers at the special rate of $55 a month (or $27.50 for the first month if customers sign up by clicking or tapping this link).
- FXX and FXM are also available on Sling TV with a subscription to either the Sling Blue or Sling Orange + Sling Blue package, and who select the “Hollywood Extra” add-on, which costs $6 a month.
In addition to Disney-owned channels, Sling TV offers dozens of other popular cable channels in Sling Orange and Sling Blue packages, including the Discovery Channel, CNN, TBS, TNT, Comedy Central, TLC and Cartoon Network.
Sling TV is available across a wide number of devices, including popular streaming platforms (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV/Google TV), on smart TV sets (Samsung, LG, Vizio, etc.), game consoles, phones, tablets and on computers.
Watch ABC, ESPN, FX and other Disney channels with Vidgo
Cost: Starts at $70 a month
Has ABC: Yes (Vidgo Plus or higher)
Has ESPN? Yes (Vidgo Plus or higher)
Has FX? Yes (Vidgo Plus or higher)
Has college sports? Yes
Deal: Get any Vidgo plan for $20 (first month price) at this link
College sports fans who want to catch all the action on ACC Network, SEC Network, Longhorn Network, ESPN, ESPN 2 and ESPN U should strongly consider Vidgo, which offers all of those channels in its base programming package, Vidgo Plus, along with ABC, Disney Channel, FX, FXX and FXM.
Vidgo Plus costs $70 a month, which makes it one of the more-expensive streaming cable alternatives on the market. But streamers get a lot for that price, including access to other sports and kid-friendly channels like Fox Sports (FS1, FS2), MLB Network, NHL Network, NFL Network, SportsGrid, Tennis Channel, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Animal Planet and more.
Readers of The Desk who sign up for Vidgo by clicking or tapping this link can get their first month of any Vidgo package, including Vidgo Plus, for just $20. The deal is also good toward Vidgo Premium, a higher tier of service that includes NFL RedZone and other premium channels.
Vidgo is available across all popular streaming TV platforms — including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Android TV (Google TV), as well as Apple and Android phones and tablets, and through the Vidgo website.
Watch ABC, ESPN, FX and other Disney channels with Fubo
Cost: Starts at $85 a month, plus taxes and fees
Free trial: Yes (24 hours)
Has ABC? Yes
Has ESPN? Yes
Has FX? Yes
Has college sports? Yes
DVR: 1,000 hours included
Get it: Click or tap here
Fubo has built its streaming service around being the premier destination for live sports — and that means, of course, that it carries ESPN and ABC.
Fubo’s base package, called Elite, starts at $85 a month (plus taxes and a regional sports fee, if applicable) and includes a live feed of local ABC stations as well as ESPN and ESPN 2. Other channels, including ACC Network, SEC Network and ESPN U, are typically included in an add-on called Fubo Extra, which normally costs $8 a month but is included in the Elite package when new customers sign up by clicking or tapping this link.
While Fubo does run on the expensive side, it is also one of the few streaming services to carry regional sports networks in most of the United States, along with local broadcast stations from ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, which pretty much guarantees Fubo will have the sports you’re looking for, no matter which channel it airs on (unless the games are on TBS or TNT, which aren’t carried on Fubo at the moment).
Fubo is also one of the few streaming services that offers a free trial, so customers can try out the service before they commit to buying it. To take advantage of Fubo’s free trial, click or tap here.
Fubo is available on most streaming popular devices and smart TVs, including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV (Google TV), VIDAA and newer-model TVs from Samsung, LG and Vizio. Fubo also has apps for smartphones, tablets and game consoles.
Watch ABC, ESPN, FX and other Disney channels with DirecTV Stream
Cost: Starts at $75 a month
Has ABC? Yes
Has ESPN? Yes
Has FX? Yes
Has college sports? Yes (depends on package)
DVR: Unlimited cloud storage
Deal: Get $10 off for three months by clicking or tapping here
The same company behind DirecTV’s satellite TV service also offers a streaming TV service for those who want to watch on smart TVs or streaming devices without installing a satellite dish.
DirecTV’s cheapest package, called Entertainment, offers top-tier cable networks like ESPN, ESPN 2, FX, FXX and the Disney Channel along with live access to most ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC stations and other channels like CNN, Comedy Central and Fox Sports, for just $75 a month (plus tax, where applicable).
College sports fans will have to pay a little more if they want to access live games: ESPN U, ACC Network and SEC Network are offered on DirecTV Stream in the Choice package, which costs $100 a month (plus tax, where applicable).
Right now, readers of The Desk can get a $10 discount off any DirecTV Stream package for three months when they sign up for service by clicking or tapping this link.
One thing to note: DirecTV is currently involved in a carriage dispute with Nexstar Media Group, which has made over 160 local broadcast stations unavailable throughout the country. That means subscribers in most areas will not have access to one or more broadcast stations affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC — the specific stations depends on where you live (to learn more about the dispute, click or tap here). Streamers can easily offset the loss of these channels by using an antenna along with DirecTV Stream.
Other ways to watch ABC, ESPN, FX and other Disney-owned channels
YouTube TV costs $73 a month, with a free trial available to new customers who sign up for service by clicking or tapping this link. YouTube TV offers live access to local ABC stations as well as ESPN, ESPN 2, ACC Network, SEC Network, ESPN U, FX, FXX, FXM, Freeform, the Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior, coupled with an unlimited cloud-based DVR that stores shows and sports for at least nine months.
Hulu with Live TV costs $77 a month and offers access to nearly all Disney-owned channels, including ABC, ESPN, FX and Freeform (Hulu is majority-owned by Disney). Hulu with Live TV also comes with free access to the ad-supported versions of Disney Plus and ESPN Plus. While the service offers a great selection of channels at a decent price point, some users have complained that Hulu with Live TV can be glitchy and has a complicated and sometimes confusing user interface.
ESPN Plus offers live access to some premium sports content, including a handful of college games, for $10 a month or $100 a year. There is also a premium bundle with the ad-supported versions of Disney Plus and Hulu that costs $13 a month.