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

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.

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