Charter launches ESPN-less virtual cable package

The nation’s largest cable provider has launched a skinny virtual streaming pay TV package for just $40 a month — but it is missing some key channels.

Charter’s new Spectrum TV Stream package bundles over 90 channels and is marketed as an “entertainment and news” offering because it notably is missing sports-focused channels, including ESPN.

ESPN is widely considered one of the most expensive channels for pay TV providers to carry, reportedly in the range of $6 to $8 a month per subscriber — which is more than double what many other channels reportedly get. 

Because of that, channels like ESPN end up eating up a significant amount of the revenue pay TV providers collect to offer services to customers, though for some sports fans, these can also be one of the main reasons they subscribe to cable.

By eliminating ESPN and its family of networks, Charter appears to have been able to lower its costs enough to get its pricing down to the $40-a-month threshold, though it did not release details of its pricing strategy. 

The package is likely to be most appealing to subscribers with little to no interest in sports or ESPN programming or who watch sports elsewhere. 

The channel lineup is heavy on channels traditionally found on basic to mid-tier cable packages. It notably includes Warner Bros. Discovery-owned networks such as HGTV, Food Network and CNN but not TNT or TBS, which provide a heavier sports lineup (truTV, which is sometimes used for sports as well, is included).

Also included are Paramount networks such as MTV and BET as well as The Weather Channel and home shopping channels.

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Spectrum TV Stream does, however, include the Disney Channel, which is owned by ESPN parent Disney (ABC-owned and affiliated TV stations are also left out because the service doesn’t include any local stations).

ESPN-less cable packages have long been of interest to both consumers and pay TV providers. Consumers looking for value and who aren’t interested in sports have bene particularly interested in this type of offering.

Consumer advocates have also lobbied for more flexibility in pay TV packages, including the possibility for consumers to pick what channels they want or select from broad categories. 

Proponents of that approach say it would save consumers money. However, others say that selling channels that way would erase any potential savings because channel owners might charge more for carriage if a provider brings fewer subscribers. 

Although Spectrum did not comment on how its agreements with Disney work, offering the ESPN-free package under a virtual multichannel video programming distributor model could give it more flexibility. 

Disney, meanwhile, has entered into a joint venture with Warner Bros. Discovery and Fox to launch a streaming service that would sell access to the linear feeds of ESPN and all of its channels plus the WBD and Fox-owned channels with sports. That venture, which has yet to be named but is sometimes referred to as “Spulu,” is launching in the fall of 2024.

Separately, ESPN has also announced it will sell standalone access to its channel’s linear feeds starting in 2025.

Both offerings appear to be targeted at cord-cutters who have dropped traditional cable, which has affected networks’ revenues.

Spectrum’s new offered also notably does not include MSNBC but does include rivals CNN and Fox.  

In addition to the ESPN-less package, Charter also introduced a Latino-focused vMPVD offering.

Spectrum Stream Latino will cost $24.99 per month plus tax where applicable and can be purchased by Spectrum’s internet customers as a standalone video package or it can be purchased in a bundle with Spectrum TV Stream.

The package contains more than 45 Spanish-language channels, including Bandamax, BeIN Sports en Español, Discovery en Español, Galavisión, Telemundo, TUDN, UniMás and Univision.

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