ESPN is fighting back just hours after Verizon announced plans to offer new FiOS TV packages that split up channels into cheaper, semi-a la carte bundles. The massive sports network, owned by the Walt Disney Company, said in a statement provided to Recode that Verizon's new bundles "would not be authorized by our existing agreements." The statement continues, "Among other issues, our contracts clearly provide that neither ESPN nor ESPN2 may be distributed in a separate sports package."
The contracts that your cable provider signs to bring your favorite channels to your home often have many stipulations — most programmers, for instance, require that their powerhouse channels be offered alongside their less popular offerings. Extremely powerful networks, like ESPN, can even mandate that its channels are included in the most widely distributed cable packages.
ESPN says custom bundles "would not be authorized by our existing agreements."
Verizon's announcement was somewhat noteworthy because it appeared to sidestep such stipulations, but now it seems that the operator may have jumped the gun before coming to agreements with its programming partners. The new customizable FiOS packages appear to violate ESPN's rules, as the sports network's channels are not included in the base TV bundle of 35 channels. Customers on the new plan get the base channels, broadband internet, and two additional add-on bundles for $65 per month. ESPN's channels are relegated to a separate sports package, which can either be counted against the two included bundles or can be added on for an extra $10 per month. There are a total of seven add-on bundles.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, FiOS president Tami Erwin said that the company designed the new plans such that it "expects to be in a position of compliance" with its programming contracts. But going off of ESPN's statement, it seems Verizon announced the new plans before hammering out all of the details in negotiations. It's possible the company used a public announcement as a bargaining move in an attempt to force an agreement.
The new "Custom TV" FiOS bundles were supposed to be available starting tomorrow, April 19th, but unless the two sides can come to an agreement, that date might get pushed back.