Earlier this month Verizon took a tiny step towards unbundling cable channels when it introduced FiOS Custom TV. The way it works is that you pay $54.99 for base service (which includes approximately 45 channels) plus two channel packs of your choosing. Currently there are seven of these packs based around themes like "News & Info," "Kids," and "Sports." Each pack has anywhere from ten to eighteen additional channels. Additional packs are $10 each and of course there are various bundles that package Custom TV with Internet and/or phone and prices vary accordingly.
This isn't à la carte TV but it's a little bit closer to the usual mega bundles of stations (many of which you'll never watch) that you normally are offered. I'd call it a step in the right direction, at least.
Unfortunately ESPN does not agree. ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN U are included in the Sports pack and ESPN News is included in the Sports Plus pack, and the company isn't happy about it.
In fact yesterday they filed a breach of contract suit against Verizon and followed up with a statement:
“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.”
Verizon responded with a statement of their own:
"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."
The Wall Street Journal has more on this story.
We'll have to wait and see what the courts decide, but I'm hoping Verizon comes out of this on top. I'd like to see more cable TV providers offering options other than huge bundles filled with channels many of us aren't going to watch, but if ESPN wins this case it could set back the move towards smaller packages of channels (a move that I hope will eventually lead to true à la carte channel selection).