ESPN filed suit against Verizon on Monday for creating cheaper, smaller cable offerings that included the sports operator's channels, allegedly without permission.
The lawsuit intensifies the battle between networks and providers that erupted in the face of market pressures, as more consumers cut the cord to the traditional cable bundle in favor of online streaming options.
Earlier this month, Verizon announced its FiOS cable service would offer "Custom TV," which are slimmer and less expensive packages of channels grouped by genres, such as sports or kids entertainment, to appeal to potential cord cutters.
Several networks protested, including ESPN, NBC and Fox, whose revenues are closely tied to preserving the long-standing cable bundle. ESPN, which is owned by The Walt Disney Co., protested saying Verizon's slimmer bundles violated their licensing agreements for ESPN and ESPN 2.
"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," the company said in a statement.
An ESPN spokesperson added that the disagreement was not primarily about money, but about sending a message that cable partners can't "unilaterally change deals" without permission. The spokesperson added that ESPN and several programmers negotiated for more than one year with Dish Network to carry programs on a new streaming service called SlingTV and that the network expects the same approach to new packages by FiOS and other distributors.
Deirdre Hart, a spokeswoman for Verizon, responded: "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."