The cable bundle scams subscribers again.
One of the biggest cons indulged in by the cable industry is the practice of “rebranding” – taking a previous channel and changing its name and entire core concept to something entirely new.
Often, this kind of change is forced on channels that serve only a small number of viewers interested in its specific content; and justs as often, the new concept is even less popular than the original one was, and attracts even fewer viewers.
Naturally, viewers never get a say in when or whether this change takes place; yet every cable subscriber in America is still forced to pay for both the old channel, and the newer, even less popular one. Only after the change has alienated the few loyal fans the old channel had, and proves a total failure at attracting new viewers, does the conglomerate owning the channel do the logical thing: cancel the channel completely, thus saving all subscribers at least a pittance on their monthly cable bills.
The latest example of this scam is the Esquire Network. Owned by Comcast-NBCUniversal, originally the network was called the G4 channel. G4 covered technology, video gaming, and other “geek” genre interests (full week-long coverage of the San Diego Comic-Con was an annual highlight). Unsurprisingly, the network had a small but highly devoted fanbase.
Yet this loyal viewer base was ignored in 2013, when Comcast announced it was “rebranding” G4 to the Esquire Network. Adding insult to injury, Comcast noted that Esquire would appeal to “today’s educated, upscale man” – thus more or less openly stating that genre fans are neither “educated” nor “upscale,” and just weren’t sophisticated enough to matter. In other words, Comcast thought it could get more money out of advertisers by selling commercial time for more upscale products.
But in the event, apparently non-stop reruns of Parks and Recreation drew in even fewer “educated, upscale” viewers than G4 did, and interest in the network plummeted. In 2016, the channel averaged a meager 141,000 viewers in prime time for the entire year, and both AT&T and DISH Network dropped the channel from their lineups. The result? In January, Comcast announced the channel was shutting down.
This is far from the first time the huge entertainment conglomerates that own broadcast and cable networks have pulled this scam. Previous examples abound: In 2000, Viacom turned the country music channel The Nashville Network into the sex-and-scatology-obsessed, frat-boy Spike TV. Discovery Kids was bought by Hasbro, which renamed the channel “the Hub” and filled it withy glorified commercials. SPEED network, formerly devoted to NASCAR racing, will became a generic sports channel; Fox Soccer beceme FXX, a spin-off of FX devoted to sleazy, gross-out comedies; Biography Channel became FYI, home to adultery show The Seven-Year Switch; and even the TV Guide Channel became POP TV, with crass original programming like Schitt’s Creek sandwiched between reruns of The Love Boat.
And this isn’t even counting “soft” rebrands like ABC Family becoming Freeform (but continuing its family-unfriendly output), TV Land moving to more “complicated” and “deep” programming like Younger (about a middle-aged woman who posts pictures of her genitals online to attract younger men) or the now-cancelled Impastor, about a corrupt, adulterous con-artist minister. Perhaps the best example of what happens to channels that “rebrand” is Nick Jr. Once home to programming for kids, in 2012 the channel began showing adult-themed, anti-child and anti-family programming on its NickMom block – a choice which ultimately destroyed the channel altogether.
The perfect demonstration of the entertainment industry’s arrogance is Court TV. Originally intended to give viewers a look inside the judicial process with coverage of trials, in 2008 Court TV was renamed “TruTV,” and moved to “reality” programming like Las Vegas Jailhouse. Unbelievably, while keeping its name, TruTV is now rebranding again, this time as a comedy network. “The way you do it is by having projects that feel distinct and different, deliver something that no one else is delivering,” TruTV President Chris Linn said, apparently with a straight face. With the current glut of comedies on dozens of other channels, this is better comedy than anything TruTV will likely deliver.
But consumers are having the last laugh. After decades of paying for dozens or hundreds of channels they never watch and don’t want, hundreds of thousands of Americans are dumping their cable subscriptions and picking up online services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, where they’re not paying almost $1000 a year for shows they don’t want.
Unfortunately, the conglomerates that run cable aren’t offering to compensate viewers for the dollars they spent on the now-cancelled Esquire channel. Too bad they don’t offer a credit on internet packages…