In the quest for ad dollars and viewer eyeballs over the last decade, there's a laundry list of cable channels that veered off course, deciding that the quick and easy money made from airing shocking garbage was worth more than having a respected brand. And that worked, for a while. The Weather Channel began airing shows about gold prospectors
. The History Channel started airing -- whatever the hell this is
. And The Discovery Channel made a small fortune by airing shows like Honey Boo Boo
, highlighting assorted nitwits in various stages of mental and verbal incontinence.
But in the last year or two with the rise of cord cutting, things have been changing. For example, veering away from its core mission started to hurt The Weather Channel badly. Not only were customers looking for the actual god-damned weather
now heading to online options, but cable operators started dropping
the channel from their lineups, arguing that the dreck being served up wasn't worth the cost of admission. After some whining and scattered hissy fits
, The Weather Channel finally announced
it needed to return to its core focus: the weather (and weathermen standing around idiotically in said weather).
The Discovery Channel also appears to have come to something vaguely resembling its senses. The channel announced recently that it has realized the error of its ways
(ie putting sensationalist tripe above brand quality) and will begin trying to redeem its image and brand in the wake of reality television:
"One day we just came in and looked at each other and said, 'You know, no more bearded guys in the kitchen with f---ing pigs running through the living room,'" Discovery head David Zaslav, the highest-paid chief executive in the United States, said one recent afternoon in his eighth-floor office in Manhattan. "Let's get back to who we really are. We’re about satisfying curiosity. Let's forget about the ratings right now and let's chase what the brand is at its best."
As an obvious sign of the apocalypse, MTV executives are even insisting that the channel will focus on a little something called music in 2016:
A big reason for all of this soul searching is the rise of Internet video and the corresponding dip in ratings. Tired of bi-annual rate hikes and the fact that consumers pay for 189 channels but only actually watch 17, consumers are driving a fundamental shift in the way video content is consumed. Soon, individual channels will either be offered a la carte or as part of limited channel packs included in so-called "skinny bundles." Channels like Discovery are worried that under this new paradigm, low-quality fare you "put on just to have something on" won't past muster. So they're returning to quality:
"To distinguish itself, Discovery has doubled down on its old-school core of natural history, animal conservation and adventure specials. The media giant tapped John Hoffman, an HBO veteran known for rigorous looks at American obesity and Alzheimer's disease, to become its new boss of documentaries, with the mandate to ignore ratings and shoot for big talkers with award potential and strong reviews."
And while it's entirely possible that cord cutters and cord trimmers still want to watch garbage
, the belief is that a return to quality in a specific area of expertise is going to be the only way to stand out among an ocean of sameness. There were 409
original scripted series in 2015, double that of 2009. And in an era when consumers will have more power than ever, HBO, Netflix, and Amazon have all shown that focusing on the quality of your original programming really does matter again. Hopefully, this is an early indication that our long, dark, Honey Boo Boo nightmare may soon be over.