Cable Networks Go All-In on Streaming as Linear Subscribers Flee

Discovery follows FX, AMC, Nickelodeon and many others in major platform expansion

Many of the biggest cable networks have made bold moves to expand their brands into the streaming space as cord-cutting continues to increase. Getty Images
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On Wednesday, Discovery Inc. will hold an investors day to finally unveil plans for its global streaming service, which the company has been talking about publicly since last year.

Execs have privately been referring to the platform as Discovery+, though that name has not yet been confirmed. It is expected to prominently feature many of the company’s most popular brands and networks, including Discovery, TLC and HGTV.

The announcement caps a year in which many of the biggest cable networks, and their parent companies, have made bold moves to expand their brands into the streaming space as consumers continue cutting the cord in ever-increasing numbers. That behavior has only been accelerated by the pandemic, as many of these strategy shifts were in the works prior to March’s shutdown.

Among the cable networks’ most notable pushes into streaming this year was ViacomCBS bulking up its CBS All Access streaming service in July. That move came ahead of a larger overhaul planned for early next year, when the service will be rebranded as Paramount+—adding 3,500 episodes from networks like BET, Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon, including all prior seasons of Nickelodeon’s hit cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants.

In March, FX teamed with Disney corporate sibling Hulu to create FX on Hulu. The branded hub on the Hulu platform features several exclusive shows created by the FX team, next-day access to all original episodes that air on FX/FXX and the majority of the network’s library.

Meanwhile, AMC Networks launched a new OTT offering, AMC+. That offering features ad-free programming across AMC Networks’ entertainment networks, several of the company’s niche streaming services (Shudder, Sundance Now and IFC Films Unlimited), select AMC library shows (including all seven seasons of Mad Men) and access to the live linear feeds of AMC, IFC, Sundance TV and BBC America.

Elsewhere, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal both rolled out major organizational overhauls to put their respective new streaming services (HBO Max and Peacock) front and center, and place the same execs in charge of programming for both linear and streaming. WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar cited “the pandemic’s economic pressures and acceleration of direct-to-consumer streaming adoption” in explaining his August overhaul. That decision included an expanded role for HBO programming president Casey Bloys, who now also oversees content for HBO Max.

Update: While Kilar’s August announcement indicated that Bloys would also oversee content for TNT, TBS and truTV, that had been a mistake in his staff memo that was never publicly corrected, and Bloys’ purview had in fact extended only to HBO Max, according to a source. Brett Weitz, the gm of TNT, TBS and truTV, maintains oversight of those three networks. However, several properties on those linear networks have shifted to HBO Max in the last year, including Search Party (which aired its first two seasons on TBS), Raised by Wolves (which was developed for TNT before transferring to HBO Max) and Conan (the Conan O’Brien-hosted show will end its TBS run next year, with O’Brien segueing to a weekly HBO Max series).

In the same week as WarnerMedia’s restructuring, NBCUniversal had its own revamp. That strategy unified its entertainment segment and led to the October hire of former Warner Bros. TV president Susan Rovner, who now heads up entertainment content for all NBCU platforms, including Peacock, as chairman, entertainment content of NBCUniversal television and streaming.  

These sweeping reorganizations have also resulted in the exits of several top cable network chiefs, including USA and Syfy head Chris McCumber and Kevin Reilly, who oversaw TNT, TBS and truTV.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.