You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Niche Cable Channels Fall Victim to Peak TV

The casualties of Peak TV are starting to pile up.

NBCUniversal’s little-watched Esquire Network is gone as a linear channel as of the summer. Cloo, a tiny portion of NBCU’s cable business, went dark on Feb. 1. That was the same day NBCU Cable announced a rebranding of its Oxygen channel into a “crime destination” for millennial women.

These are tough times to be an underperforming cable channel. The fact that a company with the heft of NBCUniversal couldn’t strong-arm distributors into continuing to carry Esquire for a few cents a month per subscriber sounds the alarm that MVPDs are serious about pruning their channel rosters.

Distributors are focused on creating smaller bundles with more flexibility for consumers. The old-guard cable operators are being forced to move by the coming wave of low-cost streaming channel packages, which started last year with the launch of DirecTV Now.

Channels such as Cloo, which aired mystery-themed shows drawn from the NBCU library, were born in a different era, when programmers had the leverage to demand carriage of lesser channels along with their biggest brands. In a skinny-bundle market, there’s no room for channels that don’t pull their weight in ratings.

Oxygen has been in a ratings rut for some time but has seen signs of life lately with its crime-centric programming, which drove the rebranding. The shutdown of Cloo, which had only about 25 million viewers and no dedicated employees, was in the works even before the Oxygen decision was made.

Veteran TV business analyst Michael Nathanson observes that the hard line taken by distributors comes as MVPDs are looking to cut costs at a time when the retransmission consent fees they pay to local broadcast TV stations are growing by double digits in the largest markets. SNL Kagan projects that retrans fees paid to local broadcasters will hit $11.6 billion by 2022, up from $6.4 billion in 2015.

The competitive pressures on both sides of the distributor/programming divide have been building to a breaking point. Nathanson says he’s not surprised to see NBCUniversal pulling the plug on channels because of the 20,000-foot view of the pay TV ecosystem provided by its parent company, Comcast.

There was no logic in NBCU continuing to invest in Esquire if its subscriber base was sure to dwindle over the next few years. Similar tough-love evaluations have to happen sooner rather than later at other media firms with lackluster channels, notably Viacom, Discovery, and Scripps.

“It makes no sense for the business to stay the way it is,” Nathanson notes. “You’ll have to see some consolidation of ownership, or some of those networks close down.”

More TV

  • SAG Awards Placeholder

    SAG Award Nominations (Updating Live)

    Awkwafina and Laverne Cox announced the nominations for the 25th Annual SAG Awards on Wednesday morning. TNT, TBS, and truTV aired the announcement live from the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, Calif., beginning at 10 a.m. ET/PT. SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris introduced the presenters, who revealed nominations for acting in television and film. Prior to [...]

  • European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe VestagerSlush

    Liberty Global, Vodafone's $22 Billion Cable Deal Under Investigation by EU

    The European Commission has started an in-depth probe into Vodafone’s proposed acquisition of a raft of Liberty Global assets in Europe. The commission cited concerns that the deal could reduce competition in Germany and the Czech Republic. “It’s important that all EU consumers have access to affordable and good quality telephone and TV services,” Commissioner [...]

  • SAG Awards Placeholder

    How to Watch the SAG Awards Nominations Live

    Awkwafina and Laverne Cox will announce the nominees for the 25th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Wednesday at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, Calif. Beginning 10 a.m. ET/PT, the nominations will be carried live on TNT, TBS, and truTV. SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris will introduce Awkwafina and Cox. Prior to that announcement, SAG Awards [...]

  • CBS News' chief White House correspondent

    Major Garrett Named Chief Washington Correspondent for CBS News

    CBS News has promoted Major Garrett to the post of Chief Washington Correspondent. A veteran journo, Garrett has served as Chief White House Correspondent since joining CBS News in 2012. With the promotion, Garrett will expand his beat to a wider range of stories coming out of Washington as well as the 2020 presidential election [...]

  • SF Studios Acquires Norwegian Production Company

    SF Studios Acquires Norwegian Production Company Paradox

    SF Studios has acquired Paradox, the well-established Scandinavian company behind Erik Poppe’s “U-July 22,” to launch Norwegian production operations. SF Studios, which will be celebrating its centenary next year, has up until now focused on the production of feature films and drama series in Sweden and Denmark. The company also boasts distribution operations in Norway [...]

  • Hulu Picks Up Anna Friel Drama

    Hulu Picks Up Anna Friel Drama ‘Butterfly’

    Hulu has snagged U.S. rights to “Butterfly,” the family drama about separated parents who disagree over how to deal with their youngest child, Max, who was born a boy but identifies as a girl. The series was commissioned by ITV in the U.K. “Marcella” star Anna Friel plays Max’s mother, Vicky, and Emmett J. Scanlon [...]

  • Rupert Murdoch

    BBC Orders Documentary Series on Rupert Murdoch’s Print Empire

    The BBC has ordered “A Tabloid Empire,” a three-part documentary series on Rupert Murdoch’s influence over the British press. The series will air on BBC Two in the U.K. and examine in detail Britain’s popular press between 1997 and 2012, a period that covers phone hacking and corruption but that also saw Murdoch’s and other [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content