Are More TV Channels Better?

I was having a conversation with someone in the aftermath of TLC’s latest scandal when the talk turned to networks and the effects of their pursuit of revenue and ratings, mostly by staking claim to as much real estate as possible in the channel listngs. She said to me, “Discovery was awesome as well [as TLC] until they turned into those reality shows of motorcycles and now Naked and Afraid.”

I said to her, “It seems networks find a concept that works, and then try to create a whole channel of it. But, it does seem to end up diluting the channel most of the time.”

She replied, “They just create new channels with what their original channels used to be. And usually I don’t get those channels on my basic cable, just the digital cable box, which I only have one in my house!”

Her lamenting on the negative aspects of channel proliferation got me thinking. Has channel expansion been good for the TV experience? Are we better off with more channel options? Since it’s the company we were discussing, let’s use Discovery Communications, Inc. (DCI) as an example.

DCI began in 1985 as one channel: Discovery. Currently, the mass media company has 13 TV outlets in the United States:
The Discovery Channel
Animal Planet
Investigation Discovery (ID)
Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)
Discovery Family
American Heroes Channel
Destination America
Discovery Life
Discovery en Espanol
Discovery Familia

Quantity sometimes sacrifices quality. There simply isn’t enough content to cover a 24-hour TV cycle on 13 channels without putting out some sub-par work. Wouldn’t networks like DCI be better off consolidating at least some of their programming on fewer channels?

Think about it. How many times have you turned to these “extra” channels and they’re running marathons of reruns as filler? While reruns are nice, they shouldn’t be the default programming option for so much of a channel’s schedule.

In general, TV viewers are drawn to original programming. Consider the annual phenomena of summer TV programming. Darcy Bowe, the vp, media director at Starcom, said recently to AdWeek, “Summer is a critical time period for so many advertisers. You really want to get your message out there, but because the broadcasters weren’t programming anything new, people were trained not to watch TV in the summer.” Recently, however, more broadcasters have begun to stock their summer slates with series, aiding audiences (and advertisers) with content consumption.

Following a similar thought process, if the networks supply consolidated channels with more fresh, original content, they could in theory pull better viewership numbers, which the networks could take to the advertisers to get better ad rates thus increasing their revenue.

But, of course, this is all conjecture — and a bit of aimless conjecture at that. But wouldn’t it be great if people with cable had access to more shows without having to purchase so many tiers of channels?


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