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ACC Network carriage at center of ongoing Disney-Charter carriage negotiations

Although their contract expired last week, Walt Disney Co. and Charter Communications Inc. remain engaged in discussions to forge a new distribution deal that could include carriage of the upcoming sports channel, ACC Network.

The parties continue to have positive conversations and there has not been any disruption in services, according to sources familiar with the situation. The contract, which expired Aug. 1, covers both cable networks — including sports behemoth ESPN (US), Disney Channel (US) and Freeform (US) — as well as retransmission consent for ABC (US)-owned broadcast stations. Pay TV operators pay retrans fees to broadcasters in exchange for permission to carry local stations' signals.

The launch of ESPN's ACC Network later this month is integral to the negotiations. Charter's cable systems have a significant presence within the Atlantic Coast Conference footprint. This is particularly so in the Carolinas, home to five of the conference's schools, including national football champion Clemson and basketball powers Duke and the University of North Carolina.

The network is slated to bow Aug. 22, but some would argue the real deadline for a deal comes a week later, when Clemson plays against Georgia Tech in the network's first football telecast.

Other sticking points in talks between the two companies center on pricing for ESPN's suite of networks, collectively the most-expensive portfolio among basic-cable channels. There is also a question over whether the distributor would be able to offer streaming service ESPN+ as part of its overall video package, according to sources. There was no mention of whether Disney's upcoming broad-scale streaming service Disney + is part of the negotiations.

As of press time, ACC Network has distribution pacts with Altice USA Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Hulu LLC's live TV platform, Sony Corp.'s PlayStation Vue, Google Fiber and AT&T Inc.'s DIRECTV satellite service — but not its U-verse or DIRECTV NOW products.

Disney also struck a master deal with National Cable Television Cooperative Inc., allowing the organization's 750 members to opt into the carriage deal. NCTC is a Kansas-based, not-for-profit corporation that operates as a programming and hardware purchasing organization for its member companies who own and operate cable systems throughout the U.S. and its territories.

Sources indicate Disney is currently talking with all distributors, including major players that have not committed to carrying the ACC Network such as Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and DISH Network Corp.