Charter Communications, one of the biggest cable companies in the United States, is locked in a battle with Walt Disney in a distribution dispute that may shape the future of television in the streaming era.

ESPN, ABC and other Disney channels disappeared from Charter's Spectrum cable service on Thursday, depriving its nearly 15 million video subscribers of access to the U.S. Open tennis tournament, college football and other programming.

While such "carriage disputes" are commonplace in the media world, with TV channels going dark as cable companies negotiate with media companies over how much its channels are worth and how to package channels, this fight is different.