One of the worst things about today's pay TV packages is having to pay for scores or even hundreds of junky channels you don't want and never watch. So the idea of a "skinny bundle," or a slimmer, cheaper package that features more of what subscribers want and less of what they don't, sounds great, in theory.
Dish Network, the largest independent satellite TV provider, jumped into the skinny bundle business Thursday with a new a basic service option for $39.99 a month, well below its normal pricing. Unfortunately, the bundle is not just skinny, it's starved, and with the exception of people on tight budgets or who have very little appetite for TV, it's just not a feasible option.
Breaking down Dish's skinny bundle
The basic skinny bundle, called "Flex Pack core," features around 50 channels, including AMC, TNT, USA, HGTV, E!, Cartoon Network, History, A&E, CNN, Discovery, TBS, Food Network, FX and TV Land. Customers can then choose to add one of eight themed channel packs.
However, it's important to look at what isn't available in Flex Pack core. Unless you pay more every month, there are no local broadcast channels or local sports networks. There's no ESPN or major cable news channels other than CNN. So most people are going to end up paying more than the $40 per month base price.
The various theme packs cost $4 to $10 per month and offer a bit of flexibility. Subscribers can pay for packs a month at a time, then drop them with no penalty and resubscribe again later if they change their minds. The "Locals Pack," for example, costs $10 per month and includes CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, as well as Univision and others based on the market, according to Dish. Dish's "News Pack" also costs $10 and includes FOX News Channel, MSNBC, Weather Channel, CNBC, FOX Business Network, BBC World News, Bloomberg and TheBlaze.
Of course, there's a more affordable way to get local channels: simply buy a digital TV antenna.
In an online chat, a Dish sales rep who was not aware that I'm a reporter told me Dish DVRs are available along with a two-year commitment.
Other pay TV providers have experimented with skinny bundles under a variety of names. Verizon, for instance, offers "Custom TV," and Consumerist.com published an informative piece on the service.
The Dish deal might be worth a look if all you want is very basic pay TV service. It's certainly cheaper than any other Dish package. And if you're a current Dish subscriber, telling the company you have a better offer and are ready to walk can sometimes result in better rates.
The pay TV giants are really feeling the heat from cord cutting. As the trend continues, they'll likely offer more consumer-friendly enhancements in attempts to stay competitive. However, you should always make sure you understand exactly what a TV company is offering before you sign any new contract. And don't forget that advertised prices generally exclude taxes and a plethora of fees that can add significant costs to your monthly bill.