Dish Offering More Flexible Pick-And-Choose Channel Packages. Is It Worth It?

Only a few months after Verizon FiOS effectively gave up on its “skinny bundle” attempt to provide pay-TV customers with more flexible channel options, Dish Network is giving it a go with a new pricing model that starts at $40/month… but goes up quickly when you add on the channels you might want.

The new Dish “Flex Pack” starts with a base package of 50 channels for $39.99/month. The satellite company hasn’t published the full list of 50 channels included for that price (and the Dish website seems to contradict some of the channels listed in the press release), but it does include a number of basic cable mainstays like AMC, TNT, USA, HGTV, E!, Cartoon Network, History, A&E, CNN, Discovery, TBS, Food Network, FX and TV Land.

It also seems to include a metric crud-ton of micro-niche, and standard-definition channels that you’ll likely never watch — unless you’re a huge fan of home shopping and/or religious programming — so take Dish’s “pay for what you watch” marketing of this package with a sizable grain of salt.

What’s Not Included?

The $39.99/month rate for the base pack also includes your choice of one add-on package, which can range from $4-$10/month. These extras only serve to highlight what isn’t included in the base package.

(It is worth noting that if you don’t get any of the add-ons and go with only the base package, the rate drops to $29.99/month.)

• No Local Channels: If you want access to your local network affiliates and other over-the-air stations like Univision, that’ll be $10/month extra.

• No ESPN: This could be a good or bad thing, depending on your feelings toward the popular sports network. ESPN and its many offshoots are reported to account for anywhere from $5-8/month for most folks’ basic cable bills; much more than any other single basic TV network. So, in theory, by not having ESPN included in the base package of 50 channels you should be getting more for your buck. Unfortunately, if you want ESPN, you’ll need to add $10/month. You also get ESPN 2, FS1, and a handful of others, but that might be too high a premiums for SportsCenter.

• No Regional Sports: Your regional sports network isn’t included in the 50 core channels either. To get it — along with Big Ten Network, FS2, Longhorn Network, Outside TV, Pac-12 Network, SEC Network, World Fishing Network, ESPN Buzzer Beater — you’ll have to add $10/month.

• Pay For News: While CNN is included in the base pack, the other major cable news outlets — FOX News, MSNBC, CNBC, FOX Business, Bloomberg — are extra. $10/month extra, to be precise. This also includes access to the Weather Channel, BBC World News, and The Blaze.

Given the current political and media climate, some Dish subscribers may be happy to know they aren’t paying for one or more of these news channels as part of the base package, but we wonder who partisans on either side of the aisle will feel about having to pay extra for news channels they don’t like just to get the ones they do.

• Kids Cost Money: Again, those of us without children or without any interest in kid-targeted entertainment, may be delighted to hear that they aren’t having to pay for Disney Channel, Nick Jr., Boomerang, and others. However, parents of young kids may bristle at a $10/month add-on fee for these channels.

Let’s take a break and add up where we are at this point. A family with sports fans, kids, and news junkies will be $80/month — and that’s before all the other charges for receivers and whatnot that Dish adds to your final bill.

• But Wait, There’s More:
A look at the remaining add-on bundles gives you some idea of whether or not you might have to pay extra for your favorite shows.

If you want Bravo, BET, Lifetime Movie Network, or Investigation Discovery, that’s another $6/month for the “Variety Pack.”

If you’re a fan of the Hallmark Channel, OWN, Discovery Family, GSN, add $6/month for the Heartland Pack.

The Bottom Line
Dish currently markets other pay-TV packages that offer more for less money — the America’s Top 250 tier starts at $75/month. Even the “Top 120” bundle has the promotional price of $55/month. (NOTE: Those prices will go up at some point; the Flex Pack includes a two-year price lock).

So it appears that while a Flex Pack subscriber might save money when selecting a bare-bones bundle, the value dissipates as you get closer to something resembling a traditional pay-TV service.

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