Commentary

Cable Networks: NOT Wannabe Broadcast Networks

Cable may know its place, may know what it doesn't want to be in the TV viewing world.

Contrary to popular opinion, big cable networks -- TNT, USA, FX, and others -- might not be channels with multiple original dramas, comedies, and reality shows, on the air all at the same time.

FX's President/General Manager John Landgraf says cable still needs to be different from broadcast -- that too much of a good thing, might just be a mediocre thing.

Landgraf says you probably won't see FX developing programming in mass like the broadcast networks. All this would lead to lesser quality shows, he says, and more costly network operations.

For all that cable talks about the dual stream of subscriber and advertising revenue, this formula has always had its limitations. Few networks want to be like a broadcast network, airing multiple shows with 22-episode seasons.

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Many point to cable growth -- but there are restrictions. Cable networks get much of the same programming from the same sources as broadcasting networks do.  This should equate to cable having the same chance of success and/or failure.

Cable executives may still groan at their advertising price disparity with the broadcast networks -- that many shows can sometimes be less than half the cost per thousand price of a "CSI" or a "Lost." 

Some media buyers may have another view of this: Maybe the cable CPMs are priced correctly; maybe broadcast is overpriced.

Given where TV is headed -- into more of a digital and mobile device space, where on-demand TV viewing is growing -- it makes sense that cable doesn't reach beyond its means.

All of which means that Landgraf's current sentiment about the business is correct: Cable and broadcast programming economics continue to be at somewhat different ends of the financial spectrum.

7 comments about "Cable Networks: NOT Wannabe Broadcast Networks ".
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  1. Marc Schcher from MSS consulting, April 14, 2009 at 1:30 p.m.

    maybe broadcast networks should be wannabe cable nets

  2. Mose Hazo, April 14, 2009 at 1:32 p.m.

    I suppose "1,000 Ways to Die" and Ultimate Fighting is quality programming as are a multitude of syndicated off broadcast programs.

  3. Mose Hazo, April 14, 2009 at 1:37 p.m.

    I forgot this prize show:

    With more than 5 million people without paychecks and many Americans having credit and foreclosure problems, isn't this a great idea? A show is being produced by Endemol for Fox which will have co-workers having access to personnel files and voting who to lay off with a small severance. Fun, fun!!!

    http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=10378
    0

    What's next? A reality show with an execution room where you vote to pardon or not? I hope people wake up and voice their opposition to such shows that victimize those affected by this economy.

  4. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, April 14, 2009 at 1:37 p.m.

    Cable TV-friendly syndication will become increasingly important in this kind of economy. After all, cable TV found its legs during a previous recession.

    Looking at the tea leaves, services like Hulu will help cablers create awareness of new product, library offerings and ancillary products. Recent research indicates Hulu viewers are fewer in number than YouTube but watch far more streams from beginning to end. Hulu will find itself able to add more and more advertising within its streams, mirroring the early days of broadcast TV.

    As for broadcast -- the economics are changing, and with yet another strike looming on the horizon, it's more difficult than ever to nurture potential hits. In the past, critically acclaimed shows could be given time to find their audience. Today, every show needs to be close to a home run in order to be renewed...an increasingly impossible task in this fragmented environment.

  5. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 14, 2009 at 1:42 p.m.

    Cable nets have the good fortune that they never tried to be that much, so any success they muster (Burn Notice, The Closer, Monk) looks brilliant and any modest failure that the broadcast nets suffer looks absolutely stupid. But take note: Cable's occasional successes are stunningly similar to the occasional hits on broadcast nets, with some gratuitous bad language thrown in to conjure up a sense of sophistication. Saving Grace is a good example of gratuitous material to position the show as being on cable. Are audiences that easily fooled? I guess so, given the success of HBO's use of tawdry and profane topics to draw a crowd.

  6. William Hughes from Arnold Aerospace, April 14, 2009 at 3:02 p.m.

    And what do you get on Cable? 100 or more Channels that basically show THE SAME PROGRAMMING to the point where you are bored to tears! Not to mention the INSANE amount of Commercials that are thrown at Viewers.

    A couple of years ago I decided there were better things to spend my money on!

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 14, 2009 at 10:23 p.m.

    What I don't hear from you, Wayne, or even from responders is about production costs. Are the "stars" accepting less from the cable shows than networks? More productions in Canada? Better union connections? Use office furniture? Here's Dennis Leary doing comedy tours so do these type of tie-ins have some practical contributions towards production? No doubt you can think of so many more questions.

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