U.S. Cable Networks: Which Ones Commission Factual? How Many Homes Do They Reach?

   U.S. TVHH  Genre
TBS  100,608 Entertainment  
CNN / HLN  100,370 News Yes
DISCOVERY CHANNEL  100,101 Factual/Reality Yes
NICK-AT-NITE  100,064 Entertainment  
NICKELODEON  100,064 Kids   
FOOD NETWORK    99,934 Lifestyle Yes
TNT    99,630 Entertainment  
ESPN    99,612 Sports Yes
HEADLINE NEWS    99,579 News  
USA NETWORK    99,541 Entertainment  
ESPN2    99,527 Sports  
LIFETIME TELEVISION    99,336 Entertainment Yes
A&E NETWORK    99,303 Entt/Reality Yes
HGTV    99,105 Lifestyle Yes
DISNEY CHANNEL    99,098 Kids   
TLC    99,041 Factual/Reality Yes
MTV: MUSIC TELEVISION    98,954 Music Yes
ADULT SWIM    98,836 Entertainment  
THE CARTOON NETWORK    98,836 Kids   
SPIKE TV    98,816 Entertainment Yes
HISTORY    98,741 Factual/Reality Yes
COMEDY CENTRAL    98,537 Comedy  
VH1    98,431 Factual/Reality Yes
FOX NEWS CHANNEL    98,393 News Yes
ABC FAMILY    98,381 Entertainment  
CNBC    97,909 News Yes
TV LAND    97,713 Entertainment  
E! ENTERTAINMENT TV    97,540 News Yes
SYFY    97,470 Entertainment Yes
ANIMAL PLANET    96,851 Factual/Reality Yes
FX    96,424 Entertainment  
AMC    96,011 Entertainment Yes
TRAVEL CHANNEL    95,882 Factual/Reality Yes
MSNBC    94,201 News Yes
BRAVO    93,717 Entertainment Yes
TRU TV      92,531 Factual/Reality Yes
CMT    91,154 Music  
BET  BLACK ENT’T TV    90,196 Entertainment Yes
HALLMARK CHANNEL    89,700 Entertainment  
GOLF CHANNEL    83,469 Sports Yes
TV GUIDE NETWORK    80,380 Entertainment  
MTV2    78,472 Music  
LIFETIME    77,756 Entertainment  
DISNEY XD    77,122 Kids   
WEtv:WOMENS ENT’T    76,651 Factual/Reality Yes
OXYGEN MEDIA    76,418 Factual/Reality Yes
DISCOVERY HEALTH / (OWN)    75,923 Factual/Reality Yes


      Commissions Factual?
   U.S. TVHH  Genre
SPEED    75,713 Sports  
SOAPNET    75,255 Entertainment  
VERSUS    74,091 Sports Yes
NICK JR (formerly NOGGIN)    73,279 Kids   
ESPNEWS    73,101 Sports Yes
WGN AMERICA    72,533 Entertainment  
GSN    71,586 Entertainment  
ESPNU    70,802 Sports Yes
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC    70,639 Factual/Reality Yes
TeenNick (formerly THE N)    70,220 Kids   
G4    69,514 Entertainment  
FUSE    67,993 Music  
BBC-AMERICA    67,528 Factual/Reality Yes
SCIENCE CHANNEL    66,617 Factual Yes
STYLE    64,678 Lifestyle Yes
ID: INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY    63,119 Factual/Reality Yes
BIO    59,524 Factual/Reality Yes
MILITARY CHANNEL    57,564 Factual Yes
COOKING CHANNEL (formerly FINE LIVING)    57,328 Lifestyle Yes
GALAVISION    57,276 Entertainment  
VH1 CLASSIC    56,982 Music  
NICKTOONS    56,979 Kids   
NFL NETWORK    56,316 Sports Yes
ESPN CLASSIC    55,468 Sports Yes
MLB NETWORK    55,323 Sports Yes
DIY NETWORK    53,734 Lifestyle Yes
TV ONE    50,354 Entertainment  
REELZCHANNEL    50,176 Entertainment  
GOSPEL MUSIC CHANNEL    47,376 Music Yes
LOGO    45,629 Entertainment Yes
SUNDANCE CHANNEL    40,000 Entertainment Yes
RFD-TV    38,506 Entertainment  
FOX SOCCER CHANNEL    36,503 Sports Yes
OUTDOOR CHANNEL    36,423 Lifestyle Yes
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC WILD    35,805 Factual/Reality Yes
ENCORE    35,259 Entertainment  
MUN2 CABLE    35,192 Entertainment  
HALLMARK MOVIE CHANNEL    34,707 Entertainment  
ENCORE PRIMARY    34,013 Entertainment  
HBO    30,643 Entertainment Yes
SHOWTIME    23,102 Entertainment Yes
TOTAL U.S. TVHH 114,900    


The ‘Scale Thing’

This chart is intended as a handy guide to the household reach of U.S. cable/satellite-delivered networks, courtesy of Nielsen (June 2010).

We added the programming category, and a checkmark to indicate if a channel has an appetite for commissioning factual programs.

We will further qualify this data in the coming months, for example by indicating the scale of hours commissioned, relative total spending on unscripted content, average budgets, a quality metric (e.g. receives award nominations), and so on.

The links connect to our earlier coverage of a network’s commissioning processes.

  • We are preparing reports on many other channels that commission factual programs.

Channels not covered by the Nielsen report include: 

  • LinkTV (32 million satellite homes and ‘program blocks shown regularly on 15 million cable homes’)  
  • The Documentary Channel (25 million)
  • Smithsonian Channel
  • Ovation TV (42 million)

HBO and Showtime are “premium” channels, explaining why they are the least widely- distributed channels shown on the list.

  • HBO is a powerhouse in the U.S documentary universe
  • Showtime also acquires and commissions docs

Don’t forget the regional and college sports networks that commission archive-based series as well as doc features, for example:

  • Big Ten Network (75+million, U.S. & Canada)

Please email us if you spot any errors or omissions.