The more mature the cable network business becomes, the harder -- and longer -- it takes for new channels to succeed. For example, in August we witnessed unimpressive rating numbers for the start of Fox Sports 1 and Al Jazeera America.
Fox Sports 1, in its first full week on the air (the network debuted August 17), averaged 157,000 prime-time viewers -- compared with top dog ESPN’s 2.3 million.
News network Al Jazeera America, which debuted Aug. 20, had it even tougher, The highest-rated show was Thursdays airing of "Real Money With Ali Velshi," which drew 54,000 viewers. Velshi, coming from CNN, may be the network’s best-known on-air name.
Much of this was expected. In general, it’s challenging to launch any big TV/entertainment vehicle. For example, how many broadcast network shows in the last few years have launched with a 3.0 rating or more among key 18-49 viewers? Not many.
Al Jazeera reaches fewer than 50 million U.S. TV homes, or less than 50% of the total 116 million TV Homes (according to Nielsen). Right there, the network has a tremendous disadvantage. Fox Sports 1 has a somewhat better case. Reaching some 90 million homes, or nearly 80% of TV homes.
If we have learned anything recently, it is that new or rebranded cable networks can face months, if not years, of troubles before they can navigate smooth waters. Media choices are multiplying, and it’s easier for consumers to find other entertainment channels.
Fox Sports 1 and Al Jazeera America would say they are in it for the long haul.
For the all the high-profile attention that went to OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network and its early troubles, it should be noted that OWN launched in January 2011. Early this year, executives at OWN partner Discovery said the network was now profitable. That means its duration to success was over two years. Not bad.
It should also be noted that a lot was riding on Winfrey’s brand name. To many, that equates to all things money-making, and that fact that success didn’t happen immediately raised eyebrows, unfairly or not,
When National Geographic Channel started in 1997, many believed the launch came too late – since Discovery Channel had already been focusing on the same non-fiction and documentary niche for 12 years. Still, better to be in the race than not at all. Today, many would look at Nat Geo’s launch as a belated but correct decision.
Troubled new networks are still in rough waters. Perhaps Fox Business Network, which started in 2007, isn’t where it wants to be. The same is possibly true for kids' network The Hub, launched in 2010 as a partnership of Discovery and Hasbro.
Traditional cable TV shelf space may not have the really big value it did years ago. Yet it still can be the media foundation for associated new digital businesses to grow from. So why not launch one -- if you have the wherewithal and the staying power?