Factual Channels Continue to Lose Distribution & Revenues. Part 1: A Snapshot with Byron Media’s Dr John Morse

U.S. Basic Cable / Satellite channels are experiencing powerful headwinds from three sources:

  • Households Using Television (HUTS) are in decline as viewers seek their entertainment from online platforms.
  • The Distribution footprints of channels are shrinking as viewers cut the cord or switch to skinny bundles.
  • And Ratings for the channels are falling as the audience shifts to online viewing.

Latest Research

My valued colleague, Byron Media’s Dr John Morse shared key data for a selection of networks that commission Unscripted programs, ranging from curated documentaries to reality TV.

  • In this series of posts, John and myself will present and comment on the latest data.
  • The next post covers the channels’ lost revenues from cord-cutting, -shaving and -nevers.
  • We will conclude with John’s analysis of the available viewing data for SVOD services like Netflix.

HUTS

  • Houses Using Television (HUTS) are down approx 5% in Broadcast and Cable for this season compared to last.

DISTRIBUTION

Following are the year-to-year changes in the Distribution footprints of U.S. advertiser-supported cab/sat channels.

  • HBO, Showtime and other PayTV channels that aren’t advertiser-supported are not covered.
  • And neither are subscription online services like Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix
Universe Estimate
(Households ‘000)
Network October 2017 October 2018  (‘000)
Change
%
Change
A&E 90,465 88,541 -1,924 -2.1%
AMERICAN HEROES 52,762 48,840 -3,922 -7.4%
ANIMAL PLANET 88,624 84,919 -3,705 -4.2%
BBC-AMERICA 81,381 80,759 -622 -0.8%
CNN 92,171 90,112 -2,059 -2.2%
COOKING 63,316 59,805 -3,511 -5.5%
DESTINATION AMERICA 49,888 45,730 -4,158 -8.3%
DISCOVERY 91,378 88,347 -3,031 -3.3%
DISCOVERY LIFE 47,297 42,943 -4,354 -9.2%
DIY 57,077 53,979 -3,098 -5.4%
ESPN 87,523 85,835 -1,688 -1.9%
FOOD 93,345 90,734 -2,611 -2.8%
FOX NEWS  89,420 86,670 -2,750 -3.1%
FYI 57,984 53,740 -4,244 -7.3%
HGTV 91,414 89,471 -1,943 -2.1%
HISTORY 91,040 89,158 -1,882 -2.1%
ID 84,997 81,913 -3,084 -3.6%
LOGO 47,627 42,631 -4,996 -10.5%
MSNBC 89,532 86,650 -2,882 -3.2%
MTV 86,635 84,559 -2,076 -2.4%
NAT GEO CHANNEL 89,763 88,672 -1,091 -1.2%
NAT GEO WILD 59,361 60,607 1,246 2.1%
OWN: OPRAH 77,232 74,254 -2,978 -3.9%
OUTDOOR 36,879 34,551 -2,328 -6.3%
OVATION 46,681 45,248 -1,433 -3.1%
OXYGEN  74,785 71,891 -2,894 -3.9%
REELZ 63,970 60,840 -3,130 -4.9%
SCIENCE 65,640 60,351 -5,289 -8.1%
SMITHSONIAN 36,152 39,757 3,605 10.0%
SYFY 90,045 87,612 -2,433 -2.7%
TLC 89,740 86,433 -3,307 -3.7%
TRAVEL CHANNEL 83,732 82,866 -866 -1.0%
TRU TV 87,271 85,530 -1,741 -2.0%
VELOCITY 73,631 73,262 -369 -0.5%
VH1 87,170 85,277 -1,893 -2.2%
VICELAND 69,263 66,618 -2,645 -3.8%
WEATHER CHANNEL 82,676 78,650 -4,026 -4.9%
WETV 86,951 84,992 -1,959 -2.3%

Source: Nielsen Cable UEs October 2018

Takeaways

  • The average year-to-year loss for this basket of channels is 2.5 million subscribers or -3.2%. That’s far from an exodus but it is a steady erosion.
  • Digital channels are the only two gainers in homes reached: Smithsonian (+10%) & Nat Geo Wild (+2,1%).
  • Digi-nets are also among the biggest losers of subscribers: Examples are Science (-8.1%) and FYI (-7.3%).
  • Unscripted powerhouses are among the distribution losers, including Discovery (-3.0 Mn), TLC (-3.3 Mn) and History (-1.9 Mn).
  • Even industry giants in Sports and News are far from immune:
    • ESPN, commissioner of the 30 for 30 Sports-themed documentary series lost 1.7 Mn households.
    • Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel lost 2.8 Mn HH (-3.1%).
  • Most channels are losing revenues from advertisers as well as subscribers:
    • Networks are cutting back on programming, their largest expense area.
    • That’s why U.S. producers are finding the road much harder to get to greenlight, and that the fewer hours commissioned are on less favorable terms.

Skinny Bundles

Byron Media reports a sampling of the largest skinny packages based upon subscriptions:

Sling TV 2,400,000
YouTube TV 410,000
DirecTV Now 2,200,000
Fubo TV 325,000
Hulu Live 1,100,000
Philo 150,000
PlayStation Vue 745,000
Other 500,000

Next Posts

  • The estimated loss of subscription revenues in 2018 for a basket of channels that commission documentaries and factual entertainment.
  • Changes in prime time ratings for factual channels.

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My coverage in podcasts and posts of trends in measuring digital engagement in video content is sponsored by Parrot Analytics.

And read more about John Morse and Byron Media here.


Updated August 2018

Original analysis and coverage from DocumentaryBusiness.com
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