ESPN viewers caught in middle of cable fight

Disney is warning Altice cable customers that they might lose ESPN and other Disney channels at the end of the month.

Yes, this is the start of another public spat between two big media companies, with customers caught in between.

This fight is especially high-stakes because ESPN is the most expensive channel on the cable dial. Disney charges cable distributors about $8 per subscriber per month for its highly valuable sports programming.

ESPN's business is under intense pressure, but it is trying to ensure that distributors keep paying. So this carriage fee fight is going to be very closely watched.

Altice (ATUS), previously known as Cablevision, provides cable TV to several million homes in the New York metropolitan area. It has been negotiating with Disney in private. The deadline is September 30.

On Friday evening, Disney decided to go public.

"Our contract with Altice is due to expire soon, so we have a responsibility to make our viewers aware of the potential loss of our programming," the company said. "We remain fully committed to reaching a deal and are hopeful we can do so. Our company has never had a disruption of service for our family of networks and there is no reason that should change now."

Along with ESPN, the Disney Channel, Freeform, and ABC's New York station WABC could also be affected.

These public tiffs usually don't result in outright blackouts -- but they do from time to time.

Related: What's going on with the NFL in Los Angeles

Altice responded on Friday night by saying that Disney (DIS) is demanding "hundreds of millions of dollars more in retransmission costs and sports programming fees, among other outrageous anti-consumer demands that impede Altice from offering more flexible video packages for customers."

"Altice USA wants to keep the programming on and is currently in negotiations with ESPN and its owners," the company said.

Disney responded by saying Altice's typical customer "pays $160 or more each month for service to Altice, and the bulk of that money goes into their pocket."

This back-and-forth is likely to continue in the days leading up to the September 30 deadline.

Programming could be blacked out at that time -- if the companies don't reach a new deal or agree to extend negotiations.

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