As a result, cable and broadcast channels that specialize in sports are able to command higher subscriber fees from pay-TV distributors. Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN gets more than $5 a month for each subscriber, from the systems that carry it, according to the media consulting firm SNL Kagan. Time Warner Cable is getting almost $4 a month per subscriber for SportsNet. Prime Ticket and Fox Sports West, which carries the Angels, together cost about $5 per subscriber, per month.
Those prices are higher than those for non-sports channels. The Disney Channel, for example, gets only about $1, while Viacom's popular MTV gets only 40 cents.
Some consumers, frustrated at the bigger bills, want more say in what they are buying.
"Why can't I just pick and choose which channels I want?" asked Ben Hoyt, a 34-year-old video game producer from Hollywood who gets Time Warner Cable service. "We're forced into pricing models that don't allow us to speak with our wallets."
The idea of offering channels on an "a la carte" basis used to be sacrilege to the industry. Executives argued it would not lower prices because networks would just charge more to make up for the loss of subscribers.