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Verizon Fios' shift to 'skinny bundles' runs afoul of ESPN

The Disney-owned ESPN says an a la carte subscription plan would violate contracts.

ESPN is not happy with Verizon's a la carte cable TV plan. Verizon

Verizon's plan to offer cheaper, à la carte bundles to Fios subscribers has raised the ire of ESPN. Verizon "does not have the right" to offer ESPN's channels outside of a standard cable package, representatives of the sports channel told The Wall Street Journal.

In Verizon's proposed à la carte system, customers of the Fios television service would subscribe to a base channel package; then choose smaller, supplemental channel packs of about 10 to 17 channels for $10 more. ESPN and ESPN 2 would be relegated to an optional Sports package, so subscribers to the base package who also wanted one or the other (or both) of those channels would have to pay the additional fee.

These new "skinny bundle" offerings "would not be authorized by [ESPN's] existing agreements," which specifically preclude ESPN's channels from being moved to a separate tier, outside of a core cable subscription package, the Disney-owned sports broadcaster said in a statement to the Journal shortly after Verizon's announcement.

The new bundles were originally slated to be available April 19 and would serve as a lure to cord cutters, or people who've left their traditional TV services behind for options like Netflix and Hulu. The bundles also make sense for consumers: a Nielsen study released last year concluded that the average US household is paying for 189 channels but watches just 17 of them. The change, however, would set an alarming precedent for broadcasters, who've been able to ensure that their networks are delivered to the broadest selection of cable subscribers.