Travel Channel saw the greatest rate of subscriber growth
during the past year, up by a whopping 54 percent, while two networks saw losses --
Country Music Television and Knowledge TV -- according to Nielsen Media Research data
compiled by Discovery Networks U.S.
Travel -- under the full ownership of Discovery
Communications Inc. and shelling out launch fees of $5 per subscriber -- gained 10.3
million homes from April 1998 through this April, the data said. Its distribution now
stands at 29.3 million.
In terms of percentage gains, Travel was followed by TV
Land, which was up 41 percent during the past year, gaining 10.6 million subscribers to
put it at 36.6 million. Both Home & Garden Television and Fox News Channel saw
increases of 29 percent.
HGTV gained 11.7 million homes -- the biggest actual
household gain -- bringing it to 51.9 million. FNC was up 8.7 million homes, to 39.3
Another DCI network, Animal Planet, ranked next in terms of
rate of gain, up 27 percent. Its distribution increased by 10.2 million homes, bringing it
to 48.6 million.
Cable's overall distribution was only up 1 percent
during the past year, to 69.4 million homes, a gain of 721,000 subscribers.
Bill Goodwyn, senior vice president of affiliate sales and
marketing at Discovery Networks, said that when his company acquired its first piece of
Travel, the network was at 17 million homes, "going south quick." Many of
Travel's carriage deals had expired, and systems were dropping it.
Now, Goodwyn said, he expects Travel to reach and surpass
40 million homes -- his initial goal -- within 12 to 18 months.
And in the case of Animal Planet, Goodwyn projected that it
will be in 50 million homes in the next few months and in 60 million within 12 to 18
months. Although Animal Planet is no longer paying cash launch fees, many of its current
rollouts are the results of major distribution commitments tied to cash incentives that
MSOs made several years ago.
Of the 43 cable networks tracked by Nielsen, only two saw
drops in distribution during the April-through-April period.
Knowledge TV was down 12 percent, losing 1.8 million
subscribers, sliding to 12.8 million homes. And CMT's distribution dropped 6 percent,
to 39.7 million homes, a loss of 2.5 million subscribers.
Some of Knowledge TV's losses have come in systems
that were carrying the network on a part-time basis -- in some cases, overnight -- network
spokesman Andy Holdgate said.
"We've been winnowing out our part-time
carriage," he said, adding that as a result, Knowledge TV's ratings have risen,
averaging a 0.2.
Holdgate also noted that Knowledge TV has been switched out
and replaced on some systems by networks that are paying cash launch incentives.
"It's difficult for us to compete with that," he added.
CMT has been suffering switch-outs for more than one year,
being replaced by rival Great American Country, which is offering modest launch fees and
But CMT officials have always insisted that even when the
network was being dropped for GAC last year by some MSOs, such as TCA Cable TV Inc., its
overall distribution was still rising because of launches on other systems.
Last week, CMT declined to comment on its 2.5
million-subscriber loss, mainly at the hands of GAC, over the past year.
GAC gained more than 1 million subscribers in the first
quarter alone, and it now reaches 8 million homes, according to GAC president Jeff Wayne.
Both GAC and Knowledge TV anticipate gains in carriage this
year from Comcast Corp., which is expected to acquire pieces of the two networks when it
closes its acquisition of Jones Intercable Inc., parent of GAC and Knowledge TV.
Odyssey Channel, which relaunched earlier this month as a
family-oriented entertainment service, has apparently made it through the transition
Odyssey suffered a number of system drops after it
announced that it was moving away from being a purely religious network.
For example, Time Warner Cable of New York City, Cox
Communications Inc. in Phoenix and some Buford Television systems have switched Odyssey
out. The Time Warner drop was more than 1 million homes, and the Cox Phoenix switch-out
was 200,000 subscribers.
Nonetheless, because of gains at some other systems,
Odyssey's distribution remained essentially flat over the past year, rising by just
14,000 homes, to 27.7 million, according to the Nielsen data.
An Odyssey official said the network gained 751,000
subscribers in the first quarter, including a launch by Time Warner in Orlando, Fla.