Americans are tired of flipping channels.
Viewers only use a small handful of the dozens of channels they pay for in traditional cable bundles. "Slim bundles" focusing on a smaller selection of channels are becoming more popular, but many analysts believe the economics of the cable industry will make true "a la carte" channels impossible.
That's because most people paying for a given channel—say, ESPN—aren't actually watching it, and those people are helping subsidize the cost for those who do.
As the cable industry meets this week in Chicago for its big annual convention, CNBC Digital decided to run the numbers. If we assume that only those who watch a channel would buy it a la carte, we can calculate how much those viewers would have to pay to maintain the same per-subscriber revenue that bundled channels like ESPN enjoy today.
For example, 24 percent of cable subscribers watch ESPN, according to Nielsen data, but all cable subscribers pay $6.04 to have that channel in their bundle, according to data from SNL Kagan. If only that 24 percent paid, they would have to be charged $25 each.
Here's how the math works out for 87 other cable channels, with those that are either more than $8 a month when unbundled or have less than 3 percent viewership highlighted in red.