Cable Future Is Tough For High-Flying TV Net Groups

The writing was on the wall -- the pay TV distributors wall - - when it came to Esquire Network.

The low-rated upscale male-targeted TV network, which started up on 2013, was near the bottom of cable network list of channels when it came to Nielsen viewing metrics. Among 105 cable networks, it place 82nd among all cable networks, pulling in 141,000 total average viewers in 2016.

Last month, AT&T’s -- home to two pay TV providers DirecTV and U-Verse -- pushed NBCUniversal to make some priorities when it came to its 16 cable networks. AT&T dropped Esquire and its total subscribers sank to 45 million from 60 million -- a major hit for a network.

With a Charter Communications carriage deal at NBCU now in limbo, perhaps NBC saw another problem in the works. So it now plans to cut out Esquire -- at least as a traditional linear TV network. Esquire will stop after the summer and turn into an Internet/digital-only network.



For some time now, many have talked about the troubles in trying to sustain over 400 scripted TV shows -- let alone perhaps another 1,000 unscripted TV shows. But we know it isn’t just TV networks looking to find the right formula.  

Pay TV distributors -- those who carry networks -- need to make tough choices as well. 

Other recent cable network closures: Participant Media stopped the 3-year-old millennial-targeted channel Pivot in October 2016; it also had a difficult time in obtaining and/or renewing distribution.

Before that Universal Sports, an Olympics-oriented sports channel, of which NBC was a minority investor, ended in late 2015 for many of the same reasons. Its network logo could be seen in recent years along with the NBC rainbow peacock mark.

What’s next? It depends on expectations of big parent companies -- and how much they can stomach losses, as well as where pay TV providers are going.

Going to the bottom of Nielsen list and mulling the data might give you a clue -- but not a clear idea. Some 23 networks are below Esquire's prime-time viewing totals -- including other NBCU cable networks Cloo, Chiller, and Golf Channel.

Gone are the days when major TV-based media companies could easily start up another barely tangential TV network -- all to grab more viewers, advertisers, and overall revenue. TV network distributors were eager to seek new channels for quick growth.

They have a different emphasis and cost structure -- now that carriage fees are dramatically rising and U.S. subscriber penetration is falling. Increasingly, many can be picky. Pay TV distributors perhaps more than ever eye more closely Nielsen viewing ratings -- as well as the cost of carrying a new network.

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