Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Fading U.S. Channels: How steep is their audience decline in the streaming era?

Variety Intelligence recently published Fading Ratings, featuring a useful series of charts that captures the downward audience trend over five-to-seven years of several portfolios of U.S. networks.

The starting points are 2014 or 2016. All screenshots were taken from the report.

SVOD’s Rising:

  • The context-setting chart highlights the rise of Netflix and the top subscription streamers.
  • The SVOD’s may be leading the “steal” of viewers from legacy networks, but they are not alone:
    • Not on the chart are advertiser-supporting AVOD’s led by Hulu
    • Video-sharing services led by YouTube and TikTok
    • Games and other video-based online entertainment platforms.

A&E Networks

  • The flagship History & A&E both lost around half of their viewers over seven years.
  • The female-targeted Lifetime was more resilient.

Discovery Networks

HGTV, TLC and Food are all female-targeted, and they resisted the streaming tide more successfully than male-skewing flagship Discovey.

True Crime-themed ID initially bucked the trend, but lost viewers after 2018 as both copycat cab/sat channels (e.g., Oxygen) and streamers (Netflix, e.g., Amanda Knox) piled into the genre.

Two notes:

  • True Crime famously “skews female but the men don’t leave the room.”
  • Minor network Travel demonstrates the fungibility of channel brands by forging further into the paranormal (e.g., Haunted Brewery).

Disney / Nat Geo

  • Nat Geo showed resilience, and Wild wasn’t included in the chart.

AMC Networks

  • WEtv, Sundance and BBC America all buy unscripted entertainment, and sustained their relatively modest audiences.
  • The steep decline of AMC may be most revealing of how the streamers came to dominate scripted series, led by Netflix with its nearly $20 Bn 2022 spend on originals.

Broadcast Networks

  • The broadcast networks’s audience shows steep decline.

Next: More “Eat-Your-Own”

  • The legacy broadcast and cab/sat networks are suffering further audience erosion as their owners go “all in” on their streaming services.
  • The heavily promoted premieres of originals and hot series that have always sustained channel loyalty have been shifted to the parent company’s streamer.
  • This “eat your own” strategy forms a vicious cycle that is compounding their decline.
  • And the broader context of course is that cord-cutting reduces the available audience.

Cannibalization Considered

Don’t miss two insightful 2021 podcasts on with programming guru Dan Salerno:

And here again is the link to Variety Intelligence for more charts and analysis.