Update Dec. 18: Disney has pulled all of its channels including ESPN, ABC and National Geographic as a result of the dispute. Google says it will discount or refund its users $15 a month until it is resolved. If you're a YouTube TV subscriber, your best alternatives are Hulu plus Live TV and Sling TV.
YouTube TV and Disney are coming down to the wire on a new agreement to keep Disney's networks, including ESPN and ABC, live on the Google-owned live-TV streaming service. With the contract set to expire late Friday, YouTube TV customers may lose access to ESPN, local ABC channels, Freeform, FX networks, National Geographic and more if the two sides fail to reach a new deal.
But if Disney's channels do go dark on the service starting Friday, YouTube TV will discount its subscriptions by $15 a month, bringing the monthly cost down to $50, as long as the networks are unavailable, YouTube said in a blog post.
The back-and-forth is the latest in a string of distribution-deal disputes for YouTube TV, after the service successfully nailed down fresh contract terms with NBCUniversal in October and Roku earlier this month.
On Tuesday, YouTube also noted that customers have an alternative way to access Disney programming if they lose the 18 affected channels. "We would love every member to stay with our service, but we give you the flexibility to pause or cancel your membership anytime," the company said in its post, even pointing customers to Disney's own $14-a-month streaming bundle. "If you want to continue watching some of Disney's content, you can consider signing up for their own service."
While YouTube errs on the side of caution, Disney remains hopeful the two sides will reach an amicable agreement before the stroke of midnight on Friday.
Disney said in a statement that it has "a highly successful track record of negotiating such agreements with providers of all types and sizes across the country and is committed to working with Google to reach a fair, market-based agreement." The company added that it's "optimistic" it can reach a deal before the deadline Friday at 11:59 p.m. ET.
This latest bargaining session follows a highly publicized carriage dispute between Google and Roku, which led to the latter dropping the YouTube TV app from its devices for new customers. Both companies were engaged in an intense battle that began in April, and they settled their spat last week, one day before Google's deadline to pull YouTube off Roku. In October, YouTube TV extended its contract with NBCUniversal to keep channels such as NBC, Bravo, SyFy, E!, Oxygen, USA, Telemundo and CNBC.
As customers await the outcome of this latest streaming distribution fight, they'll have to decide whether a price cut is worth losing Disney content. Sealing a deal would prevent YouTube TV subscribers from being tempted to switch to a rival like Hulu, the Disney-owned service that offers a tier with live channels that directly competes with YouTube TV.
Hulu, in fact, is set to bump up its $65 monthly rate by $5 starting Dec. 21, but with the added bonus of including access to streaming services Disney Plus and ESPN Plus. Though YouTube TV is $65 with Disney, stalled negotiations could make Hulu more competitive for some consumers.