Digital Subchannels Outperform Cable Competitors, Report Finds

By Daniel Holloway

Popular on Variety

Digital subchannels outperform top cable brands in audience coverage and household ratings, according to a new report from Katz Media Group. The report found that as cord-cutting and cord-shaving drive down the the number of subscribers at most cable channels, the coverage gap widens between them and more widely available broadcast digital subchannels.

Katz found that the eight top networks available on digital subchannels — MeTV, Grit, Antenna TV, Laff, Escape, This TV, Bounce TV, and Create — were more widely available than leading cable channels such as Food Network, CNN, Discovery Channel, and TBS. The report also found that in Nielsen live-plus-seven household ratings, the top digital network, MeTV ranked 20th out of all cable and broadcast networks, ahead of cable channels such as A&E, FX, Lifetime, TLC, Bravo, and MTV.

“People consider [digital networks] a last-tier option for an advertising investment when, in fact, they’re performing at or above a level of cable networks that are consistently considered for investment,” says Stacey Schulman, executive VP of strategy and analytics for Katz Media Group.

The report, released Monday, also found that digital networks have seen their audiences grow at a time of relative stagnation for cable and broadcast. From May 2016 to May 2017, average Nielsen live-plus-seven household share grew 42% for digital networks. Over the same period, it grew only 2% for cable and declined 4% for broadcast.

Digital subchannels emerged following the conversion of broadcast TV from analog to digital transmission in 2009. Most subchannels are managed by local broadcast stations, and airtime on them is typically leased to digital networks. Many such networks draw audiences with schedules consisting primarily of library programming — such as MeTV, which focuses on classic series such as “Alf” and “The Andy Griffith Show” — sometimes geared toward particular genres.