How Long Will Hulu, Sinclair Carriage Dispute Keep ABC Affiliates Dark? Is All ABC Content Gone From Hulu?
As carriage disputes go, this is one of the more unusual ones. On Thursday, Hulu confirmed via an email to subscribers and on Twitter that it no longer held the rights to distribute ABC affiliates owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group (SBG) on Hulu + Live TV. Hulu did not outright confirm that the outage was caused by a carriage dispute, but it’s highly likely considering only ABC affiliates owned by SBG were affected.
What makes the dispute so odd from a consumer standpoint is the fact that both Hulu and ABC are owned by Disney. But Disney has no control over the 34 local ABC affiliates owned or partially owned by SBG, and now Hulu + Live TV customers in those markets are left wondering if the outage is only temporary, or if they’ve lost access to their local ABC channel for good.
The good news for users is that the departure of some ABC affiliates from Hulu + Live TV will most likely not be permanent. In 2020, Hulu + Live TV dropped Nexstar-owned ABC channels in over 20 markets for two months, but a renewed deal brought them back two months later. In 2021, a six-week dispute between SBG and Hulu over a collection of CBS affiliates was resolved in time to allow customers to see the Super Bowl, so clearly the two sides are capable of hammering out a deal when necessary.
Given that information, it’s likely this dispute could have a similar timeframe of six to eight weeks. Hulu + Live TV is still offering on-demand ABC content in the affected markets, and ABC Sports is still available via simulcast on ESPN3. Users will be able to access that channel with their TV Everywhere credentials in the ESPN app. That means that what customers who lost their local ABC affiliate will really be missing most is their primetime programming and local news.
Unless Disney and Sinclair are able to resolve the issue incredibly quickly, it appears those users will be missing out on the Oscars this weekend. The 95th Academy Awards will be held Sunday, March 12, and although it will be streamed in some global territories on Disney+, the United States will not be one of them.
Hulu + Live TV has not made the move to replace local ABC channels with a national feed of ABC. The live TV service fuboTV recently dropped local CBS affiliates in 160 markets, and put a national CBS feed in their place. Not doing likewise could be a sign on Hulu’s part that they believe the dispute with SBG will be resolved quickly, but without official word from the company, there’s no way to know for sure.
Hulu Live TV
Hulu Live TV is a live TV streaming service with more than 70 channels for $69.99/month. Hulu + Live TV base plan includes local channels, 33 of the top 35 cable channels, and regional sports networks (RSNs). Subscribers get free access to Disney+ and ESPN+ at no extra charge.
While Disney controls both Hulu and ABC, local Sinclair affiliates who broadcast ABC were dropped from Hulu on March 8, 2023 due to a carriage dispute. However, this was resolved nearly 8 weeks later and all 28 markets are back on the service.
That being said, for the content that Hulu Live TV has (which is plenty), the service provides an unlimited DVR with the ability to skip through commercials. You also have the option to upgrade for premium channels, unlimited screens, and commercial-free access to Hulu’s on-demand library.