Analyst Sees News, Sports Viewing Dominating Cable

In an analysis of the cable network landscape, analyst Michael Nathanson says there’s a clear divide between live and non-live programming.

Looking at the C3 gross ratings points in the first quarter for the top 20 cable networks, Nathanson found that news and sports programming were the big winners, while original dramas and syndicated entertainment shows posted big declines.

And that contributes to the tougher environment facing cable TV networks.

“Due to a glut of new series and increasing on-demand options, the move to original scripted dramas is also showing unhealthy trends as cable networks struggle to find new audiences,” Nathanson said. “To us, it seems like the era of ‘Peak TV’ driven by an explosion of cable originals is coming to an end. But if syndication content doesn’t work and original shows are struggling, there seems to be few options left for programmers.”

News programming was up 22% year over year. Sports was up 6%. Also showing a small gain was unscripted programming.

But syndicated shows were down 20% and original entertainment programming was down 15%. Kids were also lower, posting a 7% decline, non-event sports programming (including studio shows such as SportsCenter) were down 7% and movies were off 6%.

It would follow that the networks that did best in the quarter were Fox News Channel, up 25%, and CNN, up 15%. Also posting a big gain was Investigation Discovery, up 11%. Discovery Channel and History posted smaller gains, and ESPN was flat.

Nathanson also looked at the top three shows on each of the top 20 networks to see which were driving their network's growth. Nathanson found that 40% of the 60 shows were up, but even that wasn’t encouraging.

While Wall Street looks most at the top scripted dramas on cable, “movies are still a big diver of ratings points for many of the top 20 networks,” he said. “In addition, the frequency of reruns on certain networks (e.g. The Big Bang Theory on TBS) lead to a higher contribution of total day gross ratings points (GRPs) than many would ever imagine. In a world of increasingly on-demand opportunities (SVOD, VOD, DVR, OTT), linear networks running a steady diet of old films and syndication scare us.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.