While broadcast tends to find ways to hang in there -- especially with big sports TV programming and other live events -- entertainment-focused linear cable TV networks such as TNT, USA, FX Network and others are really feeling the pain.
They all have streaming-platform corporate sister services HBO Max (TNT), Peacock TV (USA), Disney+/Hulu (FX). But what remains for those linear TV cable networks themselves that major media companies still count on to bring in revenue -- advertising and carriage fees -- all while they are making the transition?
There has been much discussion that live TV programming -- no matter where it airs -- will continue to thrive. Sport and/or news for example bolsters the likes of CNN, ESPN, Fox News Channel, TNT/TBS (NBA, NCAA Tournament).
Specifically, what is the future for original scripted and non-scripted programming on linear cable TV?
Surely there are still plenty of TV consumers with traditional pay TV services -- some with little or no streaming services on their homes TV sets. Not many, for sure.
MoffettNathanson Research estimates that cable TV networks' total day viewing for original entertainment content has plummeted 20% on a compound annual growth rate over a ten-year period, while acquired content is down 11%.
With less TV viewing, there will be less advertising. A major part of this is 5% to 8% annual subscribers declines for many top networks. And all this is accelerating.
Perhaps some mid-size to large cable TV networks will just disappear -- rare as this has been for any established cable TV network over the years.
Take NBCSN, the cable TV sports network. It was somewhat of an eye-opener that NBCUniversal stopped operation of that network after a long run at the end of 2021.
This was largely because it could not compete with other bigger sports platforms that had more high-profile sports -- the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball. The growth of cord-cording also put pressure on the channel.
For entertainment-driven channels -- scripted and unscripted -- you have to wonder if all their streaming sister platforms will now receive more of the bulk of the billions needed to be spent on original programming and acquire programming.
Right now, the overall picture still indicates this lower viewer progression for cable TV has a long way to go. Nielsen’s recent February reading, using its Gauge measure shows cable TV with a 35.4% share of total day viewing for persons two years of age and older, while broadcast and streaming are in the 27% range each.
This, of course, includes cable TV news and sports programming. Still, the share of Americans who say they watch television via cable or satellite has plunged from 76% in 2015 to 56% in 2021, according to Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults.
At some point, the financial crunch point is on the way for some long-time entertainment-focused cable TV networks -- which might take some analysts by surprise.