Verizon FiOS Custom TV plans vs. Cablevision's 'skinny' TV plans

    Which of these Internet-and-TV bundles is the better option for cord-cutters?

    Published: April 30, 2015 10:00 AM
    New cord-cutting options continue to emerge. Are they worth it?

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    It wasn't so long ago—maybe even last year—that your choices in TV service were pretty much limited to which tier of programming you'd get from your local provider. But thanks to the growing number of Internet-based services, there are now an unprecedented number of options to choose from.

    Two of the most recent are Verizon's FiOS Custom TV service and Cablevision's just-launched skinny TV service. These two services really couldn't be much more different, so we decided to see how they stack up.

    Verizon FiOS Custom TV

    Verizon's lowest-priced Custom TV plan starts at $55 per month, but it doesn't include broadband. A better deal, we think, is the $65-per-month package that bundles 25 Mbps broadband service with about 35 fixed basic channels, both local broadcast channels and cable TV networks such as AMC, CNN, Food Network, and HGTV.

    As part of the plan, you can choose two of seven available genre-based add-on packs, each of which contains an average of 10 to 17 channels. If you decide you don't like the add-ons or simply want to try another, you can change them every month at no charge. If two packs aren't enough, you have the option of adding more for $10 each per month.

    The seven channel packs include Kids, Entertainment, Lifestyle, News & Info, Pop Culture, and Sports. The Kids pack includes Nickelodeon, while sports fans get two options: the Sports Channel Pack, which includes ESPN, FOX Sports and more; and the Sports Plus Channel Pack, which includes regional sports networks and specialty programming such as NFL Network, MLB Network, NBA TV, NHL Network and Golf Channel. 

    If you need faster broadband, you can up your speed to 50 Mbps broadband with TV for $75 per month; a 75 Mbps plan costs $85 a month. Triple-play deals that include phone are also available, and cost from $75 per month (for TV, two channel packs, and 25 Mbps broadband) to $95 per month (with 75 Mbps broadband).

    Not everyone is thrilled with Verizon's plan—most notably companies such as Disney (parent of ESPN), Fox (Fox Sports), and NBC Universal, which argue that their contracts with Verizon prohibit their channels from being removed from the core TV package and offered as part of add-on packs. ESPN has now filed a lawsuit against Verizon, claiming breach of contract. Verizon maintains it's within its rights, and it's simply trying to give consumers more choice. Frankly, we'll be surprised if this disagreement isn't settled before the court renders a decision.

    Cablevision's Optimum cord-cutter plan

    Perhaps a bit odd for a cable company—one that even has "cable" in its name—Cablevision doesn't offer any cable channels with either of its cord-cutting plans. Instead, it's basically tossing a free over-the-air digital antenna, a Mohu Leaf, into its Optimum broadband plan.

    The cheapest option is a $35 per month package that includes the antenna for local broadcast TV stations, 5 Mbps broadband, and Cablevision's Freewheel Wi-Fi-based voice service, which can only be used right now with a Moto G smartphone. There's also a $5 monthly modem fee.

    These days, 5 Mbps isn't going to cut it for many families; if you're in that boat, there's a $45-per-month step-up package that includes 50 Mbps broadband and the antenna, but no Freewheel. Again, you pay a $5-per-month modem rental fee, bringing the total monthly cost to $50.

    Added benefits include access to Optimum's network of Wi-Fi hotspots, and the ability to add the standalone HBO Now service for $15 more per month. Right now, Cablevision is the only cable company offering it.

    Cord-cutting plans head-to-head: Verizon vs. Cablevision



    Monthly cost

    What you get



    Verizon Custom TV

    $65 (25Mbps)

    $75 (50Mbps)

    About $24 in additional monthly fees
    About 35 channels (such as CNN, HGTV, AMC, Food Network)

    Local broadcast channels

    Broadband Internet access
    You can choose 2 of 7 add-on packs, such as sports (ESPN) or kids, as part of the package.

    Extra packages cost $10 each per month.
    ESPN is suing Verizon for removing it from the core package.

    Extra fees.

    No DVR.

    Cablevision plan

    $40 (5Mbps)

    $50 (50Mbps)
    A Mohu Leaf antenna for local over-the-air broadcasts

    Broadband Internet access

    You can add HBO Now for $15 per month.


    Access to public Optimum Wi-Fi hotspots.

    No cable channels.

    No DVR.

    Must be able to get over-the-air broadcasts.

    Bottom line

    While we imagine that either plan will fit some consumers' needs, we don't think either is a real breakthrough. Yes, you can initially save some money, but you might be giving up a lot of channels for only a minimal monthly savings. And adding some of those missing channels à la carte can be quite expensive.

    That said, we think Verizon's Custom TV will be a better deal for more people. With Verizon, the ability to get both local and some cable channels will likely have broader appeal, though to match the Cablevision broadband speed, you'll have to pay $75, not $65 per month. (However, on Verizon's website we were able to create a custom package with local and cable channels, plus 50 Mbps broadband, for $65. Go figure.)

    But a word of caution if you're considering a Verizon plan: Read the fine print about additional fees and charges. When we priced out that double-play plan, there was a $90 installation fee, plus nearly $24 in monthly charges for things like a broadcast fee, router fee, HD settop box fee, etc. That means you're now near that $100-per-month price point many of us would like to avoid.

    With Cablevision's plan, the company is basically just adding a free antenna to its regular 50 Mbps broadband-only package, which costs $45 per month. And you need to be able to receive over-air broadcasts in your area; not everyone can, as our previous tests of antennas showed.

    On the other hand, you get all the free Cablevision Wi-Fi hotspots, and you can add the streaming HBO Now service for $15 a month. Plus, the company just announced a deal to bring Hulu Plus' catalog of on-demand shows to its service, though it hasn't yet said how it will do so, or how much it will cost.

    —James K. Willcox

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