The threat of cord cutting is affecting many cable operators and networks. Nielsen just announced that ESPN lost 621,000 subscribers in just a month. And other networks are feeling similar losses of subscribers and the fees they receive. Many attribute cord cutting to the high costs of a cable subscription but there may be other influences.
In the early days of cable TV, many homes were lucky to get more than 35 channels delivered to their cable box. They included your local broadcast channels, and nets like USA, ESPN, MTV, and CNN. Over time, more channels were created and technology was pushed to add more channels to the home. Each new channel tried to offer something new to the mix. Unfortunately over time, as channels proliferated, they stopped looking niche and different and started to morph into general entertainment. Bravo once represented a high arts and culture channel, MTV was short form music videos, and TV Land was classic TV shows. Not anymore.
The NY Times wrote of another channel that has made the same switch from its core programming to general entertainment. SundanceTV, once known as the Sundance Channel, a showcase for independent film and documentaries, will be presenting a daily daytime block of classic TV shows including All In The Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and M*A*S*H. Shows already found on other broadcast nets as well as other cable nets like Me-TV and Decade. Shows that once were the staple of the TV Land channel, but no longer as they have delved into new original programming. This is not to criticize these particular channels since every other channel is doing similar moves to broaden their appeal with general entertainment style programming to appeal to the widest audience and drive ratings and ad dollars. But it leaves viewers dissatisfied.
As The NY Times correctly states, "The truth is that a day is about 20 hours too long for many cable channels to sustain a coherent identity." And so they fill the majority of their day with programming that could be placed on any other channel. Channel brands get lost as they all start to look alike. No longer is AMC a movie channel, no longer is A&E high arts and entertainment, no longer is CMT country music. They have become generic wannabees of each other without focus. The
industry let too many channels to form with similar formats and once
they got tired of competing within their niche went forward to compete
with every other channel. And to do that they needed to broaden their reach with general entertainment shows.
Add to that a bigger load of commercials every hour and the TV viewer has become disenchanted with cable television and network brands. They all look alike and so our search for something to watch has become purely program based and not channel based. And it has opened the door to subscription services like Netflix and Amazon that let us pick particular shows to watch with no commercial interruption.
Cable networks have lost their way. The move by Sundance to add a classic TV programming block is just one example of what they are all doing. A move from a focused genre to a "broadcast" mindset. Too big, too many, too vanilla. It is no wonder that viewers keep pushing away from cable TV. And it may be too late for the industry to fix itself.