How are they doing?
We invited John Morse, president of the research firm Byron Media to help us assemble a snapshot of how the top U.S. factual channels have gained or lost prime time audience this year.
Our list is not apples-to-apples:
- It includes channels that are dedicated to Docs and Unscripted, for example Nat Geo and Discovery
- And others that schedule a mix of Docs and Reality with Scripted (e.g., A&E and MTV)
- Many channels that schedule Factual are unrated, or were not rated in ‘09
Quantity Not Quality
- Most ad-supported channels sell media based on their target demos.
- However the ‘average prime time’ is a very helpful measure of scale and performance
- Read DocumentaryTelevision.com’s network profiles and analysis of channel schedules for more details about 20+ of these channels (and several others), their target demos, and their budget ‘sweet spots’.
Average Quarterly Primetime Viewing / 3Q’10 versus 3Q’09
|NAT GEO CH||318||344||-26||-7.6%|
Nielsen Media Research, 3Q 2009 and 2010
- Largest audience (‘000)
- History (1,291), A&E (1,172), HGTV (1,055), Discovery (956) and MTV (661)
- Fastest growing channels (percent)
- ID: Investigation Discovery (65.2), Discovery Science (52.3), MTV (44.0), History (37.9) and E! (20.9)
- VH1 is in the basement (-34.6)
The Factual Bucket: 14.7 million and Growing!
- DocumentaryTelevision.com’s bucket of 25 Basic channels attracted 14.7 million average prime time viewers in 3Q’10
- That’s a year-to-year increase of 6.8% for the Factual genre
Some surprising data:
- The PBS audience grew 15.4% to 1,485,000
- HBO is a pay TV channel and the home of irregularly-scheduled premium docs
- HBO’s prime time audience dropped more than 10%
- But HBO’s documentary unit measures its performance by Oscar nominations and sizzle versus ratings
It’s been a while since History moved away from prime time ‘history’ towards character-based series like Ice Road Truckers
- History remains the #1 rated Factual network, and with a gain of 355,000 prime time viewers!
A single series – Jersey Shore – drove MTV’s dramatic turnaround!
Discovery’s investment in its digital channels is paying off
- ID jumped into the evergreen Crime niche that was abandoned by Turner’s truTV (formerly Crime)
- ID is the hottest channel in the business. There’s a way to go, but could Discovery’s Big Four become the Big Five?
- Meanwhile truTV performed below the average growth rate for our bucket of channels
- Science comes in at #2 on our growth chart, although from the audience base of a small digi-net
The Discovery Channel came back this year
- But Discovery is a flagship channel that navigates a tricky course:
- It must sustain a great, quality brand at a time when viewers enjoy lots of attractive options at the low end of the quality scale
OWN: Breaking News
Discovery Health becomes OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network on January 1
- OWN announced its launch lineup on November 1
- Read our earlier posts on OWN’s budget ‘Sweet Spot’ here and Documentary Club here
- The Top-rated U.S. Factual shows
- How much does it cost to produce them?
- And the UK’s list of the top Factual programs
Thanks to John Morse and Byron Media for contributing to this post. We are looking forward to future collaborations.
And please, send us your feedback!