The Rise of the Diginets

Rise of the diginets
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

It’s a story you may have missed, but the number of diginets in the U.S. keeps increasing.

The launch of Fox Weather as a diginet across Fox’s owned-and-operated stations in February 2022, followed by the launch of Weigel Broadcasting’s Story Television at the end of March, saw the number of active diginets in America hit a record high of 54.

But what is a diginet? The term is a combination of digital and network, referring to one of the ways these broadcast networks are distributed, as digital sub-channels on the main over-the-air (OTA) network signal. This was only possible once the digital transition began in the mid-2000s as what was one analog signal — think channel 9 — was split into 10 digital signals.

To use the Fox Weather example, the main channel — in this case, Fox — would remain the main signal (channel 9.0). But there would be sub-channels within that, so assuming a Fox network had no diginets carried until Fox Weather’s launch, Fox Weather would be channel 9.1.

With OTA a key distribution format for many broadband-only homes — Parks Associates recently found that over 23 million broadband households regularly use antennas to watch OTA content in the U.S. — diginets are seen primarily as attracting these audiences.

And yet this discounts the fact that many diginets are available in most cable network lineups. Diginet operators have also turned to FAST distribution to further their total audience reach. It’s not just cordless Americans who watch.

In terms of viewership, a surprisingly high number do tune in to watch diginets over-the-air or via cable in primetime. Not all diginets are measured by Nielsen — typically one must subscribe to be measured — but Weigel’s Me TV channel has pulled in an average of over 700K a night since 2018.

For perspective, the 2021 average audience of 752K for Me TV was greater than that of Bravo (705K), Lifetime (690K), ID (640K), A&E Network (560K), AMC and FX (each 504K).

E.W. Scripps’ Grit network was the second most watched primetime diginet, with an audience of 412K. This put it ahead of GSN (394K), Adult Swim (386K), Travel Channel (371K), MTV (339K), Comedy Central (301K) and E! (292K).

This is why traditional network giants Disney, Fox, NBCUniversal and Paramount have expanded their diginet offerings in recent years. There remains an audience for the fare available on diginets, which ranges from classic TV shows and movies to lifestyle channels (Circle, Dabl, Localish), news (Newsy, NBC.LX, Me TV’s short news updates on the hour), true crime (Court TV, Ion Mystery, True Crime Network), reality (Defy, TrueReal, Quest) and African American (Bounce TV).

In order to reach the greatest possible audience, all diginets should launch FAST live feeds or extensions in the next year or two as that format booms. This may make measurement increasingly difficult — currently no one rolls in FAST live feeds of TV into a total measurement package — but is essential for diginets to be in front of the 19 million broadband-only households that don’t use an antenna (per data provided to VIP+ by Parks Associates).

The success of diginets is often overlooked by the media business. With many networks seeing TV audience increases in recent years amidst a pattern of general decline, more attention should be paid to what is one of the industry’s few success stories in the streaming era.