‘Big Four,’ ESPN Still ‘Must-Keep’ Brands

ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC maintained their grip on the top four positions on the list of top 10 TV brands that American consumers consider “must-keep TV” in an annual survey, with ESPN the top cable brand and No. 5 on the overall list for the fifth year in a row.

Toronto-based Solutions Research Group, which has been doing the study since 2007, said the race for No. 1 was a close one, with ABC finishing just ahead of CBS overall in 2013.

While the interesting horse-race moves were among the lower-ranked brands — including History, at No. 6, passing Discovery Channel (seventh) to become the top non-sports cable brand for the first time — the survey also found that fewer Americans overall included at least one of the top four broadcast networks in their “must-keep” list. This year, the share was 75%, down from 83% in 2007.

And among those in the 18-34 age bracket, 68% had at least one of the Big Four on their must-keep list, down from 81% in 2007.

SRG said HBO, in eighth place, rejoined the top 10 after two years outside the top echelon. USA Network and PBS rounded out the top 10.

The sixth edition of the independent tracking survey is based on interviews with 1,400 U.S. consumers aged 12-plus in early spring 2013. SRG said its evaluations of 74 selected network and cable brands reveal which brands consumers must have, which are gaining in popularity and which are slipping. The survey results were reported to clients in May but results had not yet been released to the public, SRG spokespeople said.

Other highlights of the 2013 research:

• Original shows such as Game of Thrones and Girls helped HBO rise to No. 8 from No. 11 in 2012 and No. 13 in 2011. In the household income above $100,000 segment, HBO was No. 6, up from No. 8 last year, among women 18 and older, HBO rose to No. 13 from No. 24 a year ago.

• A&E rose to No. 11, from No. 16 in 2012, thanks to popular titles like Duck Dynasty and Storage Wars, and has gained popularity in the 18-34 age group with a jump to No. 17 from No. 20 in 2012.

• Syfy finished No. 13 slot for the second year in a row, and has been in the top 15 all six years of the study. Comedy Central remained No. 14 and TBS remained No. 15.

• AMC, home of The Walking Dead and Mad Men, continued its climb up the chart, landing at No. 18 from No. 33 in the total 12-plus rankings, a significant jump from its No. 46 standing in 2011. Among adults 18-49, AMC moved to No. 15, compared to No. 30 last year. Its most impressive leap, though, was in the household income above $100,000 bracket, where it ranked No. 13, up 27 spots from No. 40 a year ago.

• HGTV is another cable brand to watch, showing increases across all key demographics. Whether it’s a sign of the upswing in both sales and prices in the U.S. housing market a or result of new original shows, HGTV has risen to its highest rank in six years, reaching No. 19 versus No. 26 last year in the total 12-plus ranking and to No. 13 from No. 30 among women ages 25-54.

• FX’s new shows and mixed martial arts coverage have powered it into the top 20 for the first time, boosting it to No. 20 from No. 29.

• MTV lost its luster with 18-34s and has dropped out of its top 20 list, while HBO, USA, AMC, The CW and FX all nabbed big gains in the demo.

• Nickelodeon continued its slide to land at No. 28, down three spots from 2012 and a steady decline for the network from its No. 13 spot in 2007.

Kaan Yigit, study director at SRG, said the survey has proved “highly predictive” over the years and reflects the power a few hit series can have. HBO, he said, fell out of the top 10 after The Sopranos ended but has risen back — and risen up the ranks in high-income and female demographics — on the strength of Game of Thrones. And while the big broadcast networks are still strong, “you are seeing that sort of slow and steady erosion in the network base.”

FX and AMC, meanwhile, have gained ground thanks to hit series, especially in the case of AMC with The Walking Dead. Focus groups sometimes reveal “fogginess” in consumers’ minds relative to what shows are on what networks, but The Walking Dead is indelibly linked to AMC, Yigit said.

Survey respondents are shown a list of 74 leading network/ cable brands and are asked to identify which ones would be on their “must-keep TV” list if they had to choose a limited number. The sample design is balanced by geography, gender and ethnicity, including African- American and English-speaking Hispanics according to known universe parameters.

SRG sells the full study to content companies and distributors, Yigit said. He would not disclose the price.


Due to an editing error, the following passage was omitted from a partial listing of cable philanthropists in last week’s Cover Story (“Moguls With a Cause,” July 1, 2013, page 8).

Sumner Redstone, through personal donations and the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation, has given more than $150 million to charities and institutions worldwide. The Viacom and CBS Corp. chairman’s philanthropic endeavors focus on medical research in areas including cancer, burn recovery and mental health at several major nonprofit healthcare organizations such as Faster Cures and Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as medicine in developing countries. Redstone has also contributed to the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the Boston University School of Law, supported the Global Poverty Project’s efforts to eradicate polio and established the Cambodian Children’s Fund child rescue center. This year alone, Redstone donated $3 million to the Museum of the Moving Image, $10 million to the USC school of Cinematic Arts, and $18 million to Boston University Law School. “I’ve tried to live my life by the guiding principles of do all you can, give what you can and live every day with passion,” Redstone said in a statement to Multichannel News. “Throughout my career, I have been passionate about winning and succeeding in business. I have also brought that same passion and commitment to my philanthropic work.”


A survey shows the “Big Four” broadcasters are still seen as “must-keep TV,” but their place among television brands is slipping — particularly with younger viewers.

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Nexttv.com. Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.