Viewer fragmentation, on-demand streaming video platforms and threats from cable companies to prune under-performing networks didn't stop new channels from popping up in 2013, including a sports channel with visions of taking down the leviathan that is ESPN.
Most of the newcomers got their slots on the program guide either by taking over a failing channel, as Pivot and Al Jazeera America did, or taking advantage of Comcast's promise to add minority-owned networks, a condition of government approval for the company to buy NBC Universal.
"In general, operators have never been less interested in launching new networks, as they have neither the bandwidth nor the margins to absorb them, " said Cathy Rasenberger, a cable consultant who helps new networks get established. "Moreover, operators argue that there are no remaining underserved audiences on TV, and that new video product will not help them move the dial versus the competition."
Still, the rewards for success can be great, and it looks like there are several more new channels in the works for 2014, including the long-discussed WWE Network and the college-sports SEC Network.
Here's a look at the networks that joined the cable grid in 2013, and what to watch for in the New Year.'Knife Fight' on Esquire Network
Esquire Network is NBC Universal's solution for marketers looking to reach men outside of sports.
It's aiming in particular at the elusive upscale man, metropolitan and educated, or as Esquire Magazine President David Granger calls them, "the high-normal American male."
Introduced in September as a replacement for NBC Universal's Style Network, Esquire currently airs a mix of original reality series like the cooking competition "Knife Fight" and the style series "How I Rock It, " hosted by former NBA player Baron Davis; magazine-inspired specials like "Women We Love" and "Best Bars in America"; and reruns of off-network programs like "Parks and Recreation."
The 2014 pipeline includes "Friday Night Tykes, " a docu-series about pee wee football, and "Horse Players, " about horse racing handicappers. While NBC Universal meets regularly with the Esquire magazine's editorial team, NBC Universal retains control over programming and ad sales time for the network.
NBC Universal had originally intended to flip its video gaming-centric G4 into Esquire but changed course at the last minute, calculating that it had too many networks aimed at women and not enough aimed at men. The company has not indicated, however, what the future holds for G4.
Esquire, for its part, is still clearly in the early going, averaging 69, 000 total viewers in prime-time, about 17, 000 of which are men from 18 to 49 years old, most TV advertisers' sweet spot. In comparison, Style Network, which skewed about 80% female, delivered about 182, 000 total viewers in prime-time last year. The network is in about 75 million households.
Esquire's programming strategy has been aggressive for an infant channel, with plans to premiere 15 to 20 original series, all of which fall under the category of nonfiction lifestyle and entertainment, throughout 2014. But Esquire may need to get into scripted programming to get the viewers it wants. (Are men really going to tune in for an unscripted series about pee wee football?)Katie Nolan on Fox Sports 1's 'Crowd Goes Wild'
Fox Sports 1
Advertisers have been itching for an alternative for ESPN for years. And while Fox Sports 1 may not yet be a true challenger to the behemoth, it is starting to build the foundation.
FS1, which is in about 90 million households, is averaging just 297, 000 viewers in prime-time, a far cry from ESPN, which averaged over 2 million viewers in prime-time during the third quarter. But it's an improvement over last year, when Speed was averaging about 151, 000 viewers.
And FS1 had its biggest month in November, averaging 457, 000 viewers in prime-time, buoyed by a rivalry football game between Oregon and Oregon State as well as "Ultimate Fighter Finale" and "Ultimate Fighter Finale Prelims."
Fox's upcoming broadcast of Super Bowl XLVIII also presents an opportunity to heavily promote FS1 on broadcast air, through events and with additional coverage on the cable channel.
Advertisers seem willing to give the network time to grow, and in the interim, are pleased with the high-quality inventory they are getting when FS1's ratings fall short.Diddy and Time Warner Cable promote his new Revolt network
Arguing there's still a place for music TV, rapperpreneur Sean "Diddy" Combs hopes Revolt will be the MTV for a new generation.
The channel began in about 30 million Comcast and Time Warner Cable households in October with a mix of music videos and music and pop culture news. It recently aired a Mary J. Blige Christmas special, and will introduce "The Breakfast Club, " a morning radio show from Clear Channel, next March.
In November, Revolt introduced its website, Revolt.tv, which the channel hopes will be part of a cohesive experience across platforms rather the afterthought that's more typical of cable sites. Mr. Combs also wants to make Revolt a brand for the fans, by the fans, so it allows viewers to submit content that could appear online and on-air.
Just how millennials are responding to the channel remains a question because the network is not yet rated by Nielsen. Smaller fledgling networks that are not distributed nationally often don't pay to get Nielsen ratings, since the numbers are often negligible anyway. There's also a reason that MTV moved from music videos to broad-based reality and scripted series.'Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ' coming to Pivot in January
Pivot is also looking to tap into the millennial viewer, but by appealing to social-consciousness.
Introduced in August by Participant Media, the film and TV production company behind films like "An Inconvenient Truth" and "Lincoln, " Pivot is currently in about 40 million homes.
Early programming includes a talk-show hosted by Meghan McCain, daughter of former Republican Presidential candidate John McCain; an interactive news and information show, "Take Part Live;" the comedy "Please Like Me"; and "Jersey Strong, " a docu-series set in Newark, N.J.
Looking to 2014, Pivot will premiere "HitRecord on TV, " a half-hour variety show featuring short films, music, animation, and live performances, from Joseph Gordon Levitt, as well as its first scripted drama, "Will, " a take on William Shakespeare.