Verizon FiOS Sued Over No-ESPN-Included “Custom TV” Cable Packages

(photo: Bart)

(photo: Bart)

Just about every basic cable package in the U.S. includes ESPN whether you want it or not. This is because the popular sports network’s contract generally forbids pay-TV providers from putting ESPN on a separate sports tier. But Verizon FiOS recently introduced “Custom TV,” a programming package that doesn’t necessarily include ESPN, and now the telecom giant is being sued by the sports network for breach of contract.

This is according to a summons [PDF] for Verizon to appear in a New York state court in Manhattan.

We attempted to get a copy of the actual complaint filed with the court, but the document won’t be made public by the court until after certain confidential information about the contract between Verizon and ESPN has been redacted.

ESPN is alleging breach of contract and is asking the court to issue an injunction preventing FiOS from offering a base channel package that would not include ESPN. The suit also seeks unspecified damages of at least $500,000.

A statement from the network explains that “ESPN is at the forefront of embracing innovative ways to deliver high-quality content and value to consumers on multiple platforms, but that must be done in compliance with our agreements. We simply ask that Verizon abide by the terms of our contracts.”

At the heart of this dispute between Verizon and ESPN is the recently launched Custom TV option for FiOS. This pricing model offers a selection of base channels (which does not include ESPN) to which the subscriber can then add on separate niche-targeted bundles of 10-17 channels each. The $55/month starting price includes two of these add-on bundles at no extra charge, but each additional bundle is $10/month.

Because ESPN is included in a sports bundle and not part of the core base for all customers, the network believes that Verizon is in violation of its contract with the network. In advance of the lawsuit, ESPN’s parent company Disney stopped airing certain FiOS commercials on ESPN and other Disney-owned channels.

In response to the news, a rep for Verizon tells Consumerist:

“Consumers have spoken loud and clear that they want choice, and the industry should be focused on giving consumers what they want. We are well within our rights under our agreements to offer our customers these choices.”

A recent poll of Consumerist readers found that 85% of them believe that ESPN should not be included in basic cable packages but should be included in a separate tier where customers have the option of paying for it.

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