Niche Cable Channels Turn Toward Scripted TV

A way to 'convey status' as ratings shift slowly in their direction

Niche cable networks are shifting away from their mainstay reality programming and embracing scripted shows, says The New York Times, as a way to stay competitive.

During this spring’s upfront advertising presentations, channels like IFC (which already offers scripted shows including Portlandia and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret) and VH1 (which will begin airing dramas like the hour-long Single Ladies) showed an emphasis on original, nonreality programming. Ratings have been drifting from big broadcast channels toward niche cable shows, and cable ad time, which is usually less expensive than broadcast, is expected to grow as a result.

While many cable channels still mostly subsist on reality shows, which are cheap and easy to produce, scripted shows are seen as a way to “convey status,” says the Times, because they can help define a network’s identity, garner higher per-subscriber fees, and impress a parent company. Plus, scripted shows are often a safer haven for advertisers. One ad exec called scripted TV a “more controlled environment” for brand integration and summed it up by asking, “Do you really want to rely on Snooki to do justice to your brand?”