For some viewers of two ESPN networks on Verizon FiOS, your days could be numbered.
Late last week, FiOS subscribers (myself included) received an email from Verizon, informing that ESPN Classic (Channel 71) as well as ESPN Buzzer Beater/ESPN Goal Line (Channel 571) “will be removed from your FiOS Extreme HD package.” The moves were being made “to consolidate FiOS TV programming,” read the e-mail.
“We understand these channels may be important to you,” the e-mail continues, encouraging subscribers “to explore other programming options you may enjoy.”
However, if you wish to continue seeing either of these two networks, you just need to pay a little more. A Verizon spokeswoman confirmed that both channels will be relocated to the FiOS Ultimate HD package, which according to its website, costs at least an additional $25 per month. (Ironically, FiOS touts its Extreme HD tier as the one with the “best sports value”, with Ultimate HD bearing the “best movie value.”)
The channels will also be added to a brand new “sports tier” – not to be confused with one currently offered by FiOS, that includes niche networks like Fox College Sports and The Tennis Channel – that the same Verizon spokeswoman says will be introduced “in the coming weeks.”
These moves come just after the fiber-optic cable provider announced a new monthly fee that will be imposed largely on subscribers in markets where there are multiple regional sports networks.
It makes sense for the integrated seasonal Buzzer Beater/Goal Line network to move to the Ultimate HD tier, where it will join channels such as NFL Network’s RedZone (Channel 335/835). Like NFL RZ, Buzzer Beater/Goal Line presents to viewers live look-ins of college basketball and football games, respectively (the Goal Line Channel operates completely like RedZone on Saturdays during college football season).
But the fact that ESPN Classic is also being lumped into the costlier package is somewhat of a head-scratcher. While the channel does actually air the occasional live sports event, it’s mostly known for airing old games, including boxing, as well as rebroadcasts of old ESPN programming like “[Dick] Schaap One-On-One” and “Who’s No. 1?” and current ESPN fare like “30 For 30” and “E:60.” ESPN Classic has also aired reruns of conventional series like “Friday Night Lights” and “The White Shadow,” and previously, “This Week In Baseball” and “Arli$$.” The channel, founded in 1995 as Classic Sports Network, was acquired by ESPN in the fall of 1997. (New York City viewers actually were able to view portions of the channel for free during the summer of 1997 via the old WBIS-TV, or “S+” as it was known at the time; today, it’s WPXN, an Ion affiliate.)
And what’s really confounding about ESPN Classic being restricted to FiOS’ “Ultimate HD” tier is that many of the channel’s content was originally not presented in HD – hence, why ESPN only has a standard-definition feed of ESPN Classic in the first place.
Perhaps Verizon knows something that we don’t: could ESPN eventually rebrand its “Classic” channel into a brand new network altogether (as if ESPN didn’t have enough to begin with)? I could see why it could be lumped into a new sports-oriented tier, but why include it in an “ultimate HD” package when its existing HD-era fare like “E:60” is only going to be retransmitted as SD, anyway?
Or Verizon is just doing what it can to combat the rising costs of sports programming – even sports that were played years ago.
What would Eric Taylor or Coach Reeves think about that?