Are U.S. Cable Channels Heading Over a Cliff? An audience snapshot at the end of the ‘Teens

Are Netflix and the streamers killing the channels’ business?

And thus are opportunities shrinking for producers at the end of the ’20-teens’?

Sample – 12 Factual Channels:

For my presentation to the upcoming New York State Bar Association annual conference, Nielsen aggregated the Primetime audience for 12 channels that focus on Factual programs.

They are:

  • A&E, Animal Planet, Discovery, Food, History, HGTV, ID, MTV, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo, Smithsonian and TLC.
  • Their content ranges from curated documentaries to Reality series.
  • The average audience of the channels varies:
    • For example, HGTV and Crime-themed ID are recent ratings leaders in the Unscripted category.
    • Nat Geo Wild and Smithsonian are less widely-distributed channels.

The Data

  • The Nielsen data tracks the average Prime ratings for all 12 channels over six months from September to March for each of the 5 years beginning in 2014-15.
  • The data aggregates viewers in two categories:
    • People 2+, the measure of total viewing.
    • And the advertiser-friendly demo of People 18-54.

Findings

  • The average audience for People 2+ declined from 10.8 million to 10.1 million viewers.
  • That’s a decline of 6% over 5 years: hardly shattering!
  • However, the People 18-54 demo, which is a broad measure of the health of the channels’ ad sales business, declined from 5.3 million to 4.8 million.
  • That’s a loss of 862,000 viewers or 16% of the audience.

What You Need To Know

  • The Cab / Sat channels’ audience is not falling off a cliff.
  • The aggregate average viewing of this sample of 12 Factual channels is about 10% of the total available TV households in the world’s richest economy.
  • However, it’s a mature, ageing audience, as younger viewers shift to online video platforms.
  • And that shift erodes the channels’ ad sales revenue stream.

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Mood Shift

  • The outlook inside the channels has shifted dramatically since the pre-2014 Go-Go years when they could expect year-on-year audience growth.
  • Those were the days when a hit series like Housewives…, Pawn Stars or Deadliest Catch could launch a channel into the Unscripted stratosphere.
  • Because today’s industry fundamentals point to further declines, the channels are striving to retain their historically impressive margins through rounds of cost-cutting, notably via layoffs, trimming the program acquisition pipeline, and by enforcing tougher deal terms on producers and other suppliers.
  • Despite the numbers and the psychology, each fully-distributed Factual channel needs hundreds of new hours each year to fill its schedule.
  • That’s a focus that many producers are missing in the current Streaming Boom.

Next: Cab / Sat Distribution

  • Cable channels peaked when they reached more than 90% of U.S. homes.
  • Now cord-cutters and -nevers are eroding the channels’ distribution footprints, and therefore the subscriber revenues that have been the backbone with ad sales of the Cab / Sat ‘dual revenue stream’ financial model.
  • Watch out for my next post covering the latest U.S. Cab / Sat Distribution snapshot from Byron Media’s John Morse.

Coming: Takeaways for Producers in the Netflix Era

  • He’s developing new concepts, reinventing golden oldies, and pitching non-stop to the channels and platforms, as well as landing new clients in other industries.
  • Get ready for my upcoming podcast on Trends at the end of the ’20-teens’ with veteran producer Michael Hoff (Hoff Productions).

Coming: Is the Pie Shrinking? More Teen-end Trends & Takeaways

  • Are the Streamers expanding the total pipeline of factual commissions?
  • Or are cuts by the channels reversing decades of growth in the Cab / Sat era?
  • Is the once vibrant Factual Eco-system being drained of orders – and dollars?
  • More 2019 Takeaways coming soon!

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