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Verizon Revamps ‘Skinny’ FiOS TV Bundles After Spats With ESPN, Others

Verizon Communications is overhauling its lower-priced FiOS Custom TV bundles, and will now offer two basic packages — one with sports channels, and one without them.

The new “skinny” TV packages, launching Sunday, come almost a year after ESPN and other programmers objected to the initial Custom TV packaging, under which all sports nets were available only in optional add-on tiers. ESPN had filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Verizon over the issue.

On a call last month with analysts, Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said the telco would adjust Custom TV “to be in compliance” with existing programming contracts. The cheaper bundles have been popular with customers, according to Verizon: Custom TV represented about one-third of FiOS video sales in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Besides ESPN, both Fox Sports and NBCUniversal had said the original Custom TV tiering structure violated programming contracts. Under the original Custom TV plan, launched in April 2015, on top of a 35-channel basic lineup customers selected two channel packages from a group of seven add-ons: sports (which included ESPN, Fox Sports, NBCSN), sports plus, kids, lifestyle, news and info, pop culture and entertainment.

In a statement, ESPN said, “We are encouraged by the changes that Verizon has made to Custom TV. We expect the vast majority of Verizon subscribers to continue to get ESPN as part of their Extreme HD or Preferred HD package and we welcome the opportunity for additional subscribers to enjoy ESPN and ESPN2 as part of the new entry-level Custom TV offering.”

A Verizon spokesman said “we always carefully review all of our TV plans to ensure they are in compliance with our content agreements at all times,” but claimed that was not the reason for the new Custom TV plans.

“We upgraded (Custom TV) based on customer feedback and purchasing patterns,” he said. “We saw what types of channels most customers were opting for and asking for, and redesigned it to give them a simpler choice with a wider variety of content.”

The Verizon rep declined to comment on ESPN’s lawsuit. Reps for Fox Networks and NBC Sports declined to comment on the new Custom TV packaging.

The two new Custom TV plans both start at $55 per month standalone or $69.99 per month for a triple-play combo.

The “Custom TV – Essentials” includes broadcast TV channels plus 78 cable networks spanning lifestyle, entertainment, pop culture, kids and news including Discovery Channel, Lifetime, History, Bravo and Fox News. The “Custom TV – Sports & More” package has broadcast nets and 59 cable channels, including ESPN, ESPN2, NBCSN, Fox Sports 1 and regional sports networks in a customer’s market.

Under the new plans, Verizon is offering three additional, genre-based add-on packs for an extra $6 per month each: Movie Lovers (six channels including Sony Movie Channel, IFC and HDNet Movies); Kids Teens & Family (12 channels including Cartoon Network, Cooking Channel and OWN); and Global Sports (with 10 networks including ESPN Deportes, BeIn Sports and Gol TV).

Existing Custom TV customers will remain grandfathered into their existing packages, Verizon said.

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