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August 21, 2012

TLC's gamble: Sticking to reality

(Continued)

Those shows have helped boost ad revenue, which SNL Kagan pegs at about $323 million, up from $297.4 million at the end of 2011. The channel airs in 99 million homes in the United States and 227 million abroad.

"TLC is parked in an area that is pretty versatile, has lots of potential and possibility for a wide audience," said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "Even though they are a specialized network, they are specializing in an area that's viable."

Whether that area remains viable for much longer is hard to tell as viewers are fickle. They may tune in for three wedding shows, but six? Titillating often turns into tawdry, and repetition gets . . . well, repetitive.

Everist says specialization may soon lose its value to advertisers.

"Viewership is fragmenting, and as things get more fragmented you can have a proliferation of more niche properties. The question becomes can they make money?" he said. "At some point, you're going to get so fragmented that the audience reach you have becomes less valuable to general market advertisers."

If TLC were to hit a long, dry spell with its shows, Thompson imagines the network may feel compelled to vary its formats. Switching up its tried-and-true formula will also depend on whether viewers reach a saturation point for reality TV.

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