ESPN Aboard New FiOS Skinny Tier

FiOS TV, which shook up the pay TV universe last year with the introduction of Custom TV, a skinny bundle without sports juggernaut ESPN, has revamped that offering, introducing a new Custom TV package – Sports & More – that includes the Worldwide Sports Leader for the same price.

Custom TV subscribers still have the option of selecting a sports-free package -- which FiOS is calling Custom TV Essentials. The difference is now they also have the choice of  selecting an option that includes sports channels -- Custom TV Sports & More -- for the same monthly price. 

ESPN had chafed at being left out of the original Custom TV package, and even went as far as suing Verizon over breach of contract, but that suit never seemed to move forward.

But dropping ESPN from Custom TV seemed to fuel speculation that the once must-have cable network was losing steam, which was exacerbated by Nielsen data that showed the channel had lost about 3 million subscribers in 2015.

Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger hinted that ESPN had worked out a deal with Verizon on the media giant’s fiscal first quarter conference call, adding that the sports channel was in talks with several skinny bundle and OTT service providers. While Iger and other content and distribution CEOs have pointed out that fatter bundles still appear to be the most popular with viewers, ESPN seemed pleased with its addition to the Custom TV tier.

“We are encouraged by the changes that Verizon has made to Custom TV," ESPN said in a statement. "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."

After all the hype, Verizon said it will introduce new Custom TV bundles this Sunday (Feb. 21) aimed at appealing to a broader range of customers, adding that the new packages are designed with the same goal as the original: “to give customers the flexibility and choice to only pay for the types of channels they want and not the ones they don’t.”

The new plans are:

Custom TV – Essentials: Including about 75 channels such as Discovery Channel, Lifetime, History, Bravo, Fox News, Nickelodeon, MSNBC, CNN, Hallmark Channel, FX, Food Network, Disney Channel, MTV, Spike, USA and Turner Classic Movies.

Custom TV – Sports & More: All the regional sports channels in the customer’s service area, as well as about 55 channels such as ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, Fox Sports 1, NBC Sports Network, the NFL Network, and non-sports channels including Cartoon Network, CNBC, Syfy and TNT.

After choosing their plan, customers can enhance their channel lineup by selecting up to three additional, genre-based add-on packs for only $6 each – Movie Lovers Pack, Kids Teens & Family Pack, and the Global Sports Pack.

Custom TV customers will also receive the Fios TV Local package, which includes the customer’s local broadcast channels and other local programming.

“For many customers, less is more – they would rather pay less and get more of the content they are actually interested in,” said Verizon Consumer and Mass Business Group president Tami Erwin in a statement. “The original Custom TV has proven very popular since we launched it last year, and we’ve incorporated our customers’ feedback to make the next generation of Custom TV even better with a simpler choice and a much wider variety of channels available.”

Custom TV triple plays with Fios Digital Voice and Fios Internet with symmetrical upload and download speeds of 100 megabits per second, start at $69.99 per month online. Standalone versions of both packages are prices at about $54.99 per month each.

Customers that want the most content can also still purchase Verizon’s more traditional Fios TV plans such as Preferred HD, Extreme HD or Ultimate HD.