Chart showing costs of different cable channels


Here’s how the cable business works: Cable companies pay monthly fees to media companies for every channel they carry as part of basic cable. And then, of course, they pass those fees onto you, the subscriber. As the chart below shows, those fees vary widely — from $5.54 per month per subscriber for ESPN, all the way down to $.05 per month per subscriber for CMT Pure Country. In other words, if you have cable, you’re paying at least $5.54 per month for ESPN — even if you never watch it.

  • Saw this article when NPR posted it. The big question the article doesn’t answer is if that $5.54 is for ESPN only, or is it all of the channels that ESPN provides. My local cable company has 5 different ESPN channels, which if bundled in that price would bring the cost to $1.11 per channel.

    The same goes for the other channels on the list, so ESPN may still end up being the most expensive channel overall, but nothing in the NPR chart gives any indication to bundle pricing or not.

    • Brian Mauter

      If you click the NY Times link on Dave’s NPR link, you’ll see another chart that shows ESPN at $5.54 and ESPN2 at $0.70.

      • Yep, I didn’t read the ESPN article, only the first NYTimes article linked from the story.

  • Thank god for lifeline cable…. We get the three major networks, Fox, WB, local weather, several PBS options and that’s about all I really care to waste my time AND money on.

  • Brian Mauter

    I still don’t understand why ESPN doesn’t have a $10/month deal for the entire ESPN family from an AppleTV/Roku/TiVo/etc? $10 > $5.54 + $0.70. I would be customer #000000000001. I’ve been using an antenna for over 10 years.

    • I’m in the same boat as you except I’d pay for BBC channels via AppleTV. I think the same reason why it’s not happening is the amount of money the channels are making from cable subscriptions and offering a streaming deal would hurt their negotiation stance. Note that ESPN is available on AppleTV, but only after you authenticate that you subscribe to certain providers.

    • Joseph Blake

      because $10 a month for a tenth of the subscribers is less than $5.54 for all of the subscribers. Plus, Disney uses ESPN’s popularity to force cable companies to carry their other channels.

      • Brian Mauter

        I understand that math just fine. I guess I’m more unable to understand how they came up with the 1/10 subscribers number. Here in the Southeast US, it seems ESPN has a much better share of actual viewers than 1/10, especially this time of year (NCAA and NFL Football).