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Which TV Channels Can’t Cord-Cutters Live Without?

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If the never-ending stream of data on cord-cutting has faded into a blur, here’s one new finding that may be of actual interest. In her latest research note, Needham & Co. analyst Laura Martin reported the results of a simple request she made of 300 respondents in October: “Please list which TV channels you must have available online for you to turn off your TV subscription.” The results contain a few surprises.

If you ever wanted a glimpse about what an a la carte programming universe might look like, this might reflect what channels would be most expensive.

Broadcast still rules, but… Here’s some ammo for the broadcasters to bring into whatever the next standoff with distributors will be regarding retransmission-consent fees. The Big Four finished 1-2-3-4, which is somewhat surprising given the notion that the broadcasters are the TV equivalent of wallpaper, nice to have in the background but not essential. However, Martin also noted that most respondents who wrote in one broadcaster, wrote all of them. That may validate the criticism that each broadcaster has no real brand because they try to please everyone. “Most folks think of the four broadcasters as a monolith,” said Martin. “This may be because consumers actually watch shows on all four broadcast networks, or it could be because they have no idea which network their favorite shows are on.”

HBO subs really love their HBO. While it may not seem all that impressive that HBO finished behind all four broadcasters and three cable channels, it actually is quite noteworthy given that HBO is in less than one-third of the homes as those networks and costs an additional charge as a premium channel. “This equates to a 33% rating (similar to the broadcast networks) after adjusting for the relative audience sizes,” said Martin. No wonder Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) CEO Jeff Bewkes keeps dangling the prospect of HBO Go being offered outside the usual bundles.

If you doubted ESPN’s value…don’t. Consistent with its sky-high affiliate fee is ESPN (NYSE: DIS) ruling the cable roost here. The network just released new research today dismissing cord-cutting as a fad, but they may not suffer much either way.

10 Responses to “Which TV Channels Can’t Cord-Cutters Live Without?”

  1. As mentioned already, I’m surprised that a network like USA, which usually dominates the ratings during the summers months when most of their key programming runs, doesn’t even appear on this list. I guess “character” doesn’t really matter, after all. Or, this poll is total crap.

    BTW, the whole “character” branding is completely stupid. USA should really consider something different.

  2. Dan — you clearly are not a TCM watcher nor an old movie lover. Many TCM titles are not available on DVD. Many TCM titles are unknown to viewers until we see them there. Much of the joy of this channel is discovering new movies — obscure or not — and the serendipity of TCM’s monthly schedule. And you can’t underestimate the appeal of Robert Osbourne and the additional programming that is ABOUT classic film, the studio system and stars of the golden age of cinema.

    To put it briefly, renting DVDs is no replacement for TCM.

  3. For the person who likes Turner Classic Movies, here is a thought. Get an antenna, therefore getting the networks in HD for free. Then, take the money your spending for cable, and use your savings to buy DVDs of classic movies you want. Media is cheap. Cable is very expensive, especially when you realize that your paying for the same thing over and over again. $700 – $1200 a year for what? It’s like buying a new HDTV each year and throwing it in the trash.

  4. jojomogir

    Exactly what is the “surprise” here? C’mon, you’ve got to have a little more insight than this to call yourself a journalist. This is exactly what any person who is informed about the TV business would expect.

  5. The author writes that that the big four appearing on lists as all together or not at all may indicate these channels have no identifiable brands. As an alternative explanation, perhaps the survey tapped into a lot of sports fans (particularly NFL fans). If you’re an NFL fan, your team could appear on any of these channels. I can watch TV shows on the internet — at this point, sports are pretty much the only reason I have cable.