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Is the New FiOS Custom TV a Good Deal?

Verizon's latest cable TV offering promises more choice for less money, but you can find better bargains elsewhere.

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Verizon’s new FiOS Custom TV is creating a stir because it supposedly disrupts the traditional cable TV model by giving subscribers more freedom to choose the channels they want – and save money by doing so. It's a notable move by a major cable provider to appeal to customers who are cutting the cord in favor of cheaper streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Sling. “This package gives customers the flexibility to choose what they want and pay for just that,” says Tami Erwin, president of Verizon’s Consumer and Mass Business group, in a press release.

So how much flexibility and savings do subscribers actually get? Not as much as Verizon would like you to believe.

SEE ALSO: 6 Reasons You Hate Your Cable Company

For $54.99 a month, you get all local broadcast channels and 35 base channels – including popular channels such as AMC and HGTV but also fringe offerings such as Jewelry TV and The Church Network – with FiOS Custom TV, which debuted on April 19. There are no sports channels in the basic package. But you can get sports channels – as well as lifestyle, entertainment, news, kids or pop culture channels – by adding genre packages to your basic lineup. You can choose two of the seven available packages at no extra charge. If you want more than two, you pay an additional $10 a month per package.

These genre packages are what make FiOS Custom TV customizable. But the channels within the packages can’t be modified, and the genre packages aren't sold on a stand-alone basis, so you’re not truly getting to choose and pay for only the channels you want. Further, several networks are challenging whether Verizon has the contractual rights to package channels in such a manner. ESPN reportedly filed a lawsuit against Verizon on Monday. The outcome of the dispute could affect future channel availability.

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And when you take a closer look at pricing, Custom TV isn’t a whole lot cheaper than Verizon’s Preferred HD plan, which comes with 235 channels for $74.99 a month. The Extreme HD plan, with 320 channels, costs $79.99 a month. Yet, you get far fewer channels with Custom TV. The genre packages have anywhere from 10 to 18 channels. Even if you choose the two packages with the most channels – lifestyle and news – you still get only one-third the number of channels you would get with the Preferred plan but pay only $20 less. If you're interested in getting your TV, phone and Internet service all from Verizon, and you're willing to commit to a two-year contract, the company is offering new customers a triple-play bundle that includes Custom TV for $74.99 per month when ordered online.

If you want to cut your cable bill, you do have options. You can watch previously aired episodes of TV shows through services such as Crackle (free), Hulu Plus ($7.99 a month), Netflix (starting at $7.99 a month) and Amazon Instant Video (included in a $99-a-year Amazon Prime membership, which works out to $8.25 a month).

If you want live TV but don’t want to pay for a lot of channels you’ll never watch, here are some offerings that are cheaper than FiOS Custom TV:

DirecTV. Packages with this satellite TV company start at $19.99 per month for 125 channels, including CNN, Fox News, Disney, Food Network and HGTV (but no local stations). To get sports channels, such as ESPN, you can get the Entertainment package for $24.99 per month. However, you're locked into a two-year contract.

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Dish Network. This satellite TV company offers a Smart Pack of more than 55 channels, including Food Network, CBS Sports Network, Nickelodeon and local broadcast channels, for $19.99 a month. For $29.99 a month, the America’s Top 120 package offers more than 190 channels, including ABC Family, Disney, CNN, ESPN, History, HGTV and TLC. The main drawback is that you’re locked into a two-year contract.

Sling TV. This Internet-only service lets you watch several live TV channels that are staples of basic cable packages for just $20 a month. The Best of Live TV package now comes with 21 channels, including CNN, ESPN, Disney and HGTV. You also can subscribe to additional packages of kids, news and sports channels for $5 a month per package. And you can get HBO for an extra $15 a month. You can watch Sling on most smartphones, tablets and computers; you'll need an Amazon Fire, Roku or Xbox One streaming device to watch Sling on your television set. There is no contract, but there’s also no DVR capability, and you can only watch Sling on one TV or device at a time. (See How I’m Saving Big on My Cable Bill With Sling TV.)

Sony PlayStation Vue. This live TV and on-demand streaming service that launched in March starts at $49.99 a month for more than 50 channels. However, it's currently available in only three cities – Chicago, New York and Philadelphia – and requires a PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4. Unlike with Sling, you can record shows and pause, rewind or fast forward on all channels. And there is no contract.