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Disney Defends ESPN’s Vitality Amid Antitrust Allegations

 |  February 15, 2024

In a courtroom showdown on Thursday, Walt Disney Co. pushed for the dismissal of an antitrust lawsuit asserting that its business practices with streaming live television providers have unjustly restricted competition and led to surging prices. The crux of the lawsuit centers around Disney’s ownership of ESPN and its streaming platform Hulu, particularly Hulu + Live TV.

The plaintiffs, comprised of 25 subscribers to YouTube TV and DirecTV Stream, have initiated a potential class action lawsuit. They argue that Disney has engaged in anti-competitive behavior by forging agreements with rival streaming live television providers (SLPTVs). These agreements allegedly prevent these providers from offering bundles to subscribers at a price lower than those featuring ESPN, effectively forcing consumers to pay higher prices for access to desired content.

Related: New Suit Claims Disney Uses Hulu, ESPN To Raise Streaming Costs

Disney, however, is vehemently contesting these claims. In the courtroom, Disney representatives underscored the significance of ESPN’s widespread popularity, emphasizing its role as an indispensable channel in the realm of sports broadcasting. The entertainment giant contends that its agreements with SLPTVs are not anti-competitive maneuvers but rather strategic business decisions aimed at safeguarding the value of ESPN.

According to Disney’s defense, the restrictions imposed on SLPTVs serve to preserve the integrity and economic viability of ESPN, a cornerstone of its media empire. Disney asserts that any attempts to detach ESPN from bundled offerings would undermine its market position and diminish its ability to deliver premium sports content to audiences worldwide.

Nevertheless, the plaintiffs maintain that Disney’s actions amount to unfair practices that stifle competition and inflate prices for consumers. They argue that by imposing direct constraints on what can be offered and sold by SLPTVs, Disney has effectively manipulated the market to its advantage, depriving consumers of more affordable options.

Source: News Bloomberg Law