The explosion of cable networks since the early 80’s was supposed to bring a cornucopia of choice to US TV audiences, but plenty of cable networks that started by aiming at narrow audience niches have remade themselves to grab for the big general interest audience that has been migrating away from broadcast television for more than a generation. What was hoped to be a diversity in programming has become a vanilla soup of reality and broadcast repeats.
This isn’t a new trend, but it was highlighted again this week by discussions about SCI FI changing its name to Syfy. One stated reason is so they could have a trademarkable name, but their intent to shift away from their science fiction, fantasy, paranormal programming roots towards more general interest fare is likely the biggest driver.
Bravo was originally dedicated to indie film, drama and the performing arts to reality, makeover, fashion and celebrity. Six of the top 10 audiences on the network last week were for Real Housewives of New Jersey.
TLC, originally The Learning Channel, began as “a place for learning minds”. Is now featuring “life surprises”. Like the surprise of an overexposed mediafied family imploding in public. Jon & Kate Plus 8 had 8 of the top 20 audiences on the network last week.
A&E, no longer Arts & Entertainment, ceased being about biographies, documentaries and drama some time ago. Now it’s all reality and broadcast reruns.
The four networks I highlighted in the graphic above were just the first that came to mind, they’re certainly not the only ones. As I said in comments on the Syfy press release, I can’t fault these networks for grabbing for bigger audiences on business reasons. That audience shift away from broadcast networks is a once in an industry trend. Once it slows down, it’ll be a lot harder to gain audience share.
But where do the niches go now? Smaller cable networks? Hulu? You Tube? Digital multicast channels?