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À La Carte: These Are the TV Channels People Would Actually Pay For

The great unbundling of TV has begun, with HBO and Showtime offering their content via stand-alone subscriptions, and Sony announcing that it will soon offer consumers the ability to select individual channels for its PlayStation Vue TV subscription service. But which channels would consumers actually pay for if they could pick and chose?

The answer to that question may surprise you, and is bad news for at least some cable networks.

Take ESPN, for example. The Disney-owned sports network is often quoted as the prime reason for people not cutting the cord, and is by far the most expensive cable network. But a new survey from Digitalsmiths found that only 35.7% of consumers would add ESPN to their personal a la carte lineup of TV channels if they had the choice.

That’s far less popular than ABC, which would be picked by 66.7% of consumers, but also puts the network behind Discovery Channel (62%), History (57.7%), Comedy Central (43%) and even the Weather Channel (39.9%). Altogether, ESPN ranks 20th on the list of channels consumers chose as candidates for their a la carte lineup.

Which could explain why ESPN isn’t looking to go over-the-top any time soon. The sportscaster has been looking into niche online services, and started to sell subscriptions for the Cricket World Cup earlier this year. But it’s unlikely that ESPN would join Sony’s a la carte lineup — in part because the network would have to ask for hefty premiums: Right now, pay TV service providers are paying around $6 per subscriber for ESPN’s channels.

Other networks are more likely to benefit from unbundling, especially if they strike deals with companies like Sony to do the billing for them. Consumers are willing to pay $38 per month on average for their ideal lineup of channels, which on average consists of 17 channels.

Compare that with the money that consumers pay today, and it’s clear why people would rather have a choice: Close to 40% of consumers pay more than $125 per month for TV, Internet and home phone service per month, with 23.2% even paying more than $150 per month.

Altogether, 81.6% of consumers would prefer if they could pick their own channels.

A market research company working on behalf of Digitalsmiths quizzed 3,144 consumers in the U.S. and Canada for its Q1 2015 Video Trends Report. It’s worth noting that the company is a subsidiary of TiVo, which is increasingly looking to cater to cord-cutters. TiVo recently acquired the assets of controversial streaming TV startup Aereo and is now looking to relaunch Aereo as a law-abiding TV streaming solution.

Update: After the publication of this story, Digitalsmiths contacted Variety to notify us of an omission in their data. “It’s come to our knowledge that the survey company inadvertently left A&E Networks off the A El Cart question, causing them not to rank in the top networks consumers wanted in their ideal package. We have ensured that the network is apart of our Q2.”

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