A 500 To 20,000 Channel Universe: The New TV Reality

Hand holding tv remote control with Smart TV

There were 50+ channels to choose from during the nascent years of cable TV in the 80’s. Then suddenly in 1992, the “500 Channel Universe” was coined and the rest is history. As each inflection point of cable/satellite channel expansion and penetration occurred, viewer sampling expanded which was followed by a brief contraction as they locked onto their favorites. At each point, however, their growing list of program “go-to’s” became habit.

Increased bandwidth and streaming options in the last 15 years added more to that multi-channel environment, however, this recent #StayAtHome crisis has accelerated the program sampling universe into Star Trek-like warp speed. In order to take advantage of this quantum leap(TV puns intended) program suppliers may be helped by looking back at growth trends to see where the opportunities lie next.

They call it “imprinting” when newborns lock into their first visions, and that’s exactly what viewers are doing now with the vast entertainment options offered to them. There are many free trials and new services, and this is the time to stake your claim to this voracious viewing audience.

We used E-Score Programs to chart this growth in successful TV programs over the last 15 years. It measures the strength of the bond between the program and the audience and provides you with detailed viewer ratings on more than 4,500 programs including Awareness, Appeal, Effort to Watch, and many more attributes. There is an explosion of programs reaching an engaged-audience threshold that we believe is essential for success going forward. 

To measure these programs with highly engaged audiences, we used our index that factors in the following metrics. Programs were then ranked by year from 2006-2019 using this custom index.

  • Total Awareness
  • Ever watched the program
  • Top box Viewing Intent “Make every effort to watch”
  • Top box Program Rating “Excellent”

The Number of Successful Cable and Streaming Shows is Growing

  • The number of programs with highly engaged audiences rose for 8 straight years (2006-2013) during the golden era of television. Iconic cable programs during this time period include The Sopranos, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.
  • 2013 was the year the number of programs with highly engaged audiences reached its peak (184 programs that over-index). This year also saw the start of tracking streaming originals from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.
  • The average number of programs with highly engaged audiences has seen a +23 increase from pre to post streaming:
    • Average number of programs that over-index pre-streaming is 120.
    • Average number of programs that over-index post-streaming is 143.
  • The number of programs with highly engaged audiences has started to decline a bit since the 2013 peak.  Two factors contributing to this decline are:

1. The number of lower awareness cable programs being tracked has increased pre to post streaming:

2. New content overload: The rise in streaming programs (both high and low awareness) entering the marketplace has further expanded our testing beyond just big name cable programs:


Broadcast Shows Are Holding Up Despite The Onslaught

Given the broadsides from big budget cable and streaming channels, programs originating on broadcast television have held up very well against the increasing competition. In fact, broadcast has experienced a slight increase in successful shows since the streaming era began as engaged viewers respond to quality programming.

Overall Growth Trends

After a slight contraction following the peak year for cable (2013), the number of successful TV programs across the total universe of broadcast, cable and streaming is again on the rise.

E-Score Programs is indispensable for understanding the depth of engagement and future viewing for all television programs. Whether broadcast, cable or streaming, E-Score Programs tells you the attitudes of people watching a program and predicts what viewers will watch in the future and why.

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