Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Network Decay

"Wow, that was a real moment. That's weird for MTV."
Joel McHale: "Hey, ya know what else is weird for MTV? Showing a music video."
— The Soup

Many cable channels are created to fulfill a specific programming niche, and their name is Exactly What It Says on the Tin — the Golf Channel shows golf, the History Channel shows history programs, the Game Show Network shows Game Shows, and so on.

Some channels, however, are not as wedded to their original concept as others. Meddling executives look at the demographics to whom their channel appeals and decide that, hey, since the people watching their Speculative Fiction channel are mostly 18-31 males, and Professional Wrestling is hot among that demographic, surely no one would mind if they started showing pro-wrestling! *

The fans of the original programming will mind, of course, but the channel tends to keep going regardless. This may show up with only a couple of odd programs in the schedule, but far too often, given enough time, a channel will have pretty much abandoned its original concept. Whether or not the former invariably leads to the latter is a subject for debate.

Since the network is strongly impacted by the ratings, and the highest ratings go to generally the same few demographics, this tends to lead to networks becoming more and more like each other, either in similar programming or outright airing the same shows.

Some changes can be chalked up to the changing landscape of TV. As the number of channels goes up, networks re-align themselves to try and hold some of their market. That, or the parent companies who might own seven or more cable channels each shuffle stuff for "synergy" or to reduce redundancy. Competition with new media is prevalent as well—classic reruns give way to DVD box sets, music-video channels give way to YouTube and iPods, and info-dumping all-text channels give way to the data display in a digital cable box or some new-fangled webernet site. Most of the time, it's just shifting to whatever the network feels will attract the biggest audience—and the audience that lets them charge the most for ads (especially the lucrative young adult demographic, needless to say).

While in many cases this is seen as depressing, this isn't always a bad thing; the channel could just as easily be better after the shift. If the Network Decay works out, it may expose the channel to thousands of new viewers, who would normally never watch the network in the first place. Or perhaps the earlier direction just was not working out and the network made changes in order to get better and more profitable programming. Furthermore, there are several good shows floating around in Development Hell that wouldn't stand a chance of getting picked up unless a network decides to spread its wings.

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