Your Unfair Cable Bill: Most Expensive Channels Aren't the Most Watched

Your Unfair Cable Bill: Most Expensive Channels Aren't the Most Watched

Don't watch much ESPN? You still have to pay for it

Love “The Walking Dead,” but hate “SportsCenter”?

Too bad.

Cable providers pay only a fraction as much for AMC — the network that airs TV's top-rated drama — as they do for ESPN. And they pass their fees on to you, the consumer.

See video: Funny or Die Channels Comcast: ‘We Don't Give a F— About You’ (Video)

Many consumers are worried that bills will only go higher if Comcast, the country's biggest cable provider, is allowed to buy Time Warner Cable.

The average cable bill in the United States has increased about 4.5 percent annually over the past 15 years to more than $90 today, according to the Federal Communications Commission. One major reason is the increase in the prices networks charge cable providers to carry their programming — known in the industry as carriage fees.

But those fees don't always correlate to networks’ popularity.

ESPN charges the most per subscriber by far — $5.54 — taking up on average about 6 percent of basic cable bills, according to numbers SNL Kagan compiled exclusively for TheWrap.

Also read: Time Warner Cable CEO Says Comcast Merger is ‘Dream Combination’

But ESPN finished 2013 as the third-most-watched network overall. The most-watched network, USA, commands only the sixth- highest carriage fee, collecting a modest $0.71 per subscriber on average.

In fact, a comparison of SNL Kagan and Nielsen numbers (see charts below) shows that four of the Top 10 most-watched basic cable channels — History, A&E, FX and AMC – don't crack the list of the Top 10 most expensive.

Meanwhile, four of the 10 most expensive networks are not among the most popular. They are the NFL Network, ESPN 2, Nickelodeon and CNN.

The ESPN disparity can be explained in part by the hugely expensive professional sports contracts the network holds to broadcast games. But cable providers are afraid to play too much hardball with the sports networks, because they consider them too valuable.

Also read: AMC Slapped With Lawsuit Over Carriage Dispute

Cable providers also pay more for 3D networks. But 3D channels aren't a huge factor because relatively few people opt in. ESPN 3D charges $2.79 per subscriber on average, and 3Net charges $1.33.

Take a look at the charts below to see how your viewing habits — and cable bill — compare.


  • Larry Weisberg

    I would cancel ESPN in a second. I have NEVER watched in a single minute of ESPN in my 25 years of Cable/Satellite.

    • Elitism_FIghter

      That's because you're a limp-wristed ivory tower intellectual Communist homosexual who hates America and ordinary people who work for a living.

      • elitism fighter swallows

        This from the cum guzzling queen of this site. You have only yourself to blame that your intelligence is limited to comprehendingsports. Also if you had a shread of drive or intelligence maybe you could've done better than fry cook at McDonalds. Fuck espn. Cable should be ala ccarte

        • Elitism_Fighter2

          Yeah – ala carte – then you commies would never get a chance to see MSMBC because no one would ever pay for it. I guess we finally agree on something.

          • FNCequalsRNC

            Sorry Elitism Fighter, I just don't care much for uneducated trolls like you who think your ‘roid inflated biceps and lack of endowment overcompensation with semi automatics and duallys make you special. If you really loved America and democracy then you'd be a little more willing to pay your taxes. But you're not. You'd rather defund our government, rant against it, and demand a smaller government all while preaching how you think America and democracy is so great. Hypocrisy is the most common sin mentioned by Jesus in the bible, and you've got it in spades.

    • kreg labeaux

      i would cancel it to if i could and pay for only what i watch. i finally got fed up with the tv part and cancelled my tv subscription and now just get internet where i get subscribe to netflix and hulu for about $18 for the two.the fighter seems to be a homophobe uncomfortable with his own self image and i would imagine he gets quite a thrill from watching all those athletes play sports if ya know what i mean?

  • nerd girl 5000

    So would I! I don't know why providers don't let us choose the networks we want, a la carte.

  • bitter trekkie

    Cable will never go a la carte as long as suckers will pay their extortion. Cut the cord and send a message!

    • Rick Turscale

      Then they will raise your internet connection to $200/month, with $4/month increases fpr life

    • Alana Marie

      “Cutting the cord” doesn't do any good, no response unless done by many. My family & my Mother's cancelled ours years ago, due to the price, compared to what we watch & nothing has happened…except now we are addicted to Netflix & just have to wait for our new Season's. :) Under $10 a month, the best!

    • satellite carrier tech support

      The reason there will never be a la carte service is the channel owners require “bundling”where by they require the provider to offer less popular channels owned by the same carrier in order to continue offering the most popular ones.

      • Cyclops

        Give me al carte by the bundler, then. I still would not get any sports channels as I never watch any. I don't mind that they exist; but let the people who watch them pay for them.
        Paying to have access is the most ridiculous profit scheme that has ever been dreamed up.

  • tcidda

    the networks will charge what they think they can get just like any other retailers do.

  • kreg labeaux

    Elitism_Fighter should hang around playgrounds if he's that hard up for sports and wants to degrade people who don't. i suspect he has a self image problem and didn't do well playing with others and imagines himself playing anything in front of an audience but when it comes down to it he just sits on the couch with his beer. wishing

  • Cyclops

    Let the people that watch the channelks support them. I have zero interest in ESPN, and am pissed now, knowing that it is the most expensive channel (by FOUR TIMES) on my cable bill. .WTF???!!!!!!!!!