Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Remember When Cable Networks Were Niche Programmers

Once upon a time, the premise of cable networks was that each one individually would showcase niched programming, skimming away at the broadcast channels who showed very general shows. Cable would compete with broadcast because the aggregate of these individual channels would enable advertisers to reach effective interest groups at a more efficient CPM. The sum of the parts being greater than the whole.

In the beginning, cable networks brand name told you what they were: Arts & Entertainment (now A&E), American Movie Classics (now AMC), Music Television (MTV), and Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN), to name a few. As cable nets broadened their programming, their names became initials.

This recent review of a brand new TV show on TV Land struck a chord. TV Land was once the place to find the classic black and white TV shows. Over time, new colorized shows appeared. But now, it is the place for movies and original series. It certainly is not your grandfathers TV Land.

But TV Land is not alone in this shift from niche network to "broad" cable network. Bravo was once the cultural arts channel; now it is reality and "pop" culture. AMC was classic black and white movies; today it is the home to original series Mad Men and Breaking Bad. And I am sure you can say the same thing for most other cable networks. The mighty ad dollar has led them down a slippery slope to broaden its niche to grow the ratings. And where does that lead the consumer. Ultimately to new distribution sites including IP TV and the web.

So while I am not making a judgement call about any network, I personally miss when they each were truer to their niche and I could tell what channel I was looking at by watching its show. Now I can't tell the difference unless I see the bug constantly appearing on the corner of the picture. Don't get me started on that!