Big Media Companies Still Looking For A Cable Network Silver Lining

So CBS might be buying a 50% interest in TV Guide Network, a 80-million cable subscriber network  for $122 million? Wow, that's a deal.

Consider, it wasn't long ago that major media companies considered buying fully-distributed cable networks for $1 billion to $2 billion. Over a decade ago, in 2001, Walt Disney bought the Fox Family Channel for over $5.2 billion. More recently, growing news organization Al-Jazeera agreed to buy the Al Gore-owned Current Channel -- a network that has some 60 million cable subscribers -- for $500 million,.

You may call cable, and TV in general, a medium that may have seen its best days gone by. But major TV advertising dollars still flow its ways, as well as new TV advertising efforts that are moving -- albeit slowly – toward interactive and addressable advertising efforts.

Still, even getting a foothold in the cable business with one network isn't a clear advantage. One needs a broad collection of networks, which NBCUniversal, Viacom, Walt Disney, and Fox already have. CBS's ad-supported channels include CBS Sports Network and The Smithsonian Channel, as well as pay channel Showtime.



In the past, CBS was linked to Hallmark Channel, a cable network that in 2002 had explored a sale with a supposed $1 billion price tag. These days some analysts have floated AMC Networks and Scripps Interactive as other possible cable network groups for acquisition.

The downside for the CBS-TV Guide Network deal? The new TV Guide Network has no discernible high-profile programming or on-air personnel -- a virtual blank slate, except for its brand-name appeal (mostly to an older demographic). Current programming consists of network reruns and movies.  Nielsen prime-time ratings were down 14% in 2012 versus the year before, to a small pool of 162,000 viewers.

According to Deadline, CBS would be 50-50 partners with Lionsgate Entertainment in TV Guide Network (which would also include the TV Guide website). The good news is the network would now be in the hands of fully experienced TV network executives and TV producers -- not private investing or technology-minded companies. Also, much of cable’s viewing growth is coming from small to mid-sized cable channels.

Still, this isn’t necessarily a layup. TV network economics have changed dramatically, including for original programming. Marketing those efforts can be a chore -- though since CBS is still big platform, the biggest overall network in terms of total viewers, would be a big help.

We don't know any specific future plans for TV Guide Network. But we wonder: Is there room for one more big general-entertainment cable TV network with CBS’ name on it?

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