Verizon's Custom TV skinny bundles fatten up as it makes nice with ESPN

Verizon stuffs more channels into its skinny bundles, including a package that emphasizes sports.

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Verizon Fios’ Custom TV channel bundles are getting chunkier as the company looks to bury the hatchet with ESPN.

Custom TV first launched last April as a response to cord cutting and a desire for more flexible pay TV packages. Much like Dish’s Sling TV streaming service, Custom TV provided a base package of Fios channels for $55 per month, with the option to purchase additional themed channel packs for $10 each. (Verizon also threw in two of these add-ons at no charge.)

With the new version of Custom TV, Fios customers instead choose from two packages, each of which has more channels than the old base package at the same price. The “Essentials” package offers 50 HD channels including Animal Planet, National Geographic, Discovery, IFC, and all the Disney channels. The “Sports & More” package offers 40 HD channels including ESPN networks, NFL Network, Fox Sports Network, and CBS Sports Network. (Consumerist has the full channel list for each bundle.)

The story behind the story: Custom TV was a contentious move by Verizon, as it cut certain channels such as ESPN out of the core bundle. ESPN depends heavily on the carriage fees that those bundles bring, and sued Verizon shortly after the plans launched. The new version of Custom TV appears to have placated the Worldwide Leader in Sports; earlier this week, ESPN and Verizon hit pause on the lawsuit, saying they’ve made “progress in their ongoing settlement negotiations,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

More channels, less flexibility

Verizon isn’t changing the price of its Custom TV bundles, which cost $55 per month for the TV package. (The company also currently advertises a Triple Play bundle at $70 per month with a two-year contract.) But while customers are technically getting more for their money, they’re also losing some ability to customize.

The old plan, for instance, allowed customers to build a bundle that included both Animal Planet and ESPN. That’s no longer possible under the new plan, because the former channel lives in the Essentials package, while the latter is part of Sports & More. Without the ability to purchase ESPN in an add-on pack, customers who prefer Essentials as their core bundle are cut off from sports networks entirely.

It’s also worth noting that the price difference between Custom TV and the larger Preferred plans appears to have shrunk, at least when bundled with Internet and phone services. The latter plan, which includes 70 HD channels, only costs $10 per month more as part of a triple-play bundle, compared to a $25 per month difference when I last wrote about Custom TV. (The cost difference does increase to $20 per month after two years, and none of these prices include taxes, fees, and cable box rental costs, but that’s another story.)

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