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Disney dispute could black out Penn State, Citrus Bowl to area Verizon Fios customers

Joe Napsha
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Verizon Fios cable customers wanting to watch Penn State battle battle Kentucky in the New Year’s Day Citrus Bowl could be in for a shut out — of seeing the game, that is.

Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC and ESPN, has a full slate of football games to broadcast on New Year’s Day that might be blacked out for Fios customers if a programming payment dispute between Verizon Communications and Disney is not settled by 5 p.m. Monday.

If the two media conglomerates can’t come to an agreement by New Year’s Eve, ABC’s popular New Year’s Eve programming counting down the end of 2018 with “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest” also could be blocked for Fios customers.

Verizon revealed in a statement that Disney is proposing Verizon pay hundreds of millions of dollars more for its programming, even though many of its key networks are experiencing declining viewership. Disney wants Verizon to buy the ACC Network, which televises Atlantic Coast Conference sporting events — including those of the University of Pittsburgh.

Charles W. Wolfertz, president and general manager at Hearst Television’s WTAE-TV, the ABC affiliate in the Pittsburgh region, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

A figure was not immediately available for how many Verizon Fios TV customers in Western Pennsylvania might be affected by the potential curtailment of Disney-owned programming. David Weissman, a spokesman for Verizon’s operations in Pennsylvania, could not be reached for comment.

Disney has created an advertisement to run on its channels to alert Verizon customers of the possible loss of programming.

“Our negotiations continue in earnest and we remain optimistic that we can reach a deal,” Disney said in a statement.

The company is “actively negotiating with Disney to ensure the best deal for our customers,” said Verizon spokeswoman Adria Tomaszewski.

Details on how much money Disney wants Verizon to pay for the right to its programming was not available.

Disney’s dispute with Verizon over the programming fees comes as Disney seeks to start its own online video programming, with the intention of selling it to consumers and bypassing cable television carriers.

The nation’s other cable television giant, Comcast, also broadcasts Disney’s programming, including ESPN’s broad array of sporting events.

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