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TV’s Digital Subchannels: Narrowcasting to Subcommunities

Recently we took a look at the audience value of local broadcast TV’s digital subchannels (D2) to advertisers.  What went unsaid at that point was the sociological value that these subchannels provide to the communities that they serve.  Oftentimes, the broadcasters are showing patience instead of profit in support of networks that are providing selective content for constituencies that are otherwise underserved by other televised sources.

For example, the Bounce TV diginet, available on 66 station subchannels by groups including Barrington Broadcasting, Belo, Fox Television Stations, Gannett, LIN, Meredith, Nexstar Broadcasting and Raycom Media offers programming targeted to African American viewers.  One of the executives behind Bounce is former Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, who has said that “I’m proud that Bounce TV will deliver free programming for our under-served community.”  Hot on its heels will be KIN TV, another D2 channel aimed towards African Americans.

There are other large-swath demographic ethnicities being served by these D2 sources as well, including 15 Hispanic diginets and 16 Asian diginets, and general lifestyle content such as Live Well and NBC Nonstop.

But what about other segments of viewers, ones which are defined more by what they do than who they are?  This is where the subchannel ecosystem really starts to deliver something remarkable – narrowcasting to the segments of viewers who are large in their particular markets but relatively small on a national scale.

An argument could be made that the digital subchannel platform was tailor made for Pegasus TV.  The content is “dedicated to equestrian pursuits and country lifestyles” – it’s a network for horse owners (and perhaps Mr. Ed).  Their D2 strategy “utilizes digital sub-channels to broadcast an over-the-air signal in local television markets with high density horse-to-people populations,” as they purport that “50% of all horses are found in six states: Texas, California, Florida, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Ohio.”

BIZ TV is “dedicated to the success of entrepreneurs and small business…with a deep commitment to the Latino community and a goal of maintaining a 50% Latino workforce.”  BIZ TV can be found in cities such as Salt Lake City, Denver, Atlanta, Dallas, Wichita, and Granite Falls (Minnesota, part of the Minneapolis DMA).  If Bounce considers the African American community underserved, the Latino small business owner would be downright ignored, were it not for the digital subchannels.

It is for these core constituencies that the digital subchannel spectrum is so critical for broadcasters to be allowed to nurture and support.  While subchannels featuring “retro” programming may be successfully enticing viewers to find the platform (with ratings that rival local cable) — Me-TV, RTV, and Tribune’s Antenna TV, to name a few — it is these demographic and lifestyle subchannels that truly serve their communities.  They have the ability to target areas of need within certain markets and narrowcast to their particular demographics, bringing them relevant, niche programming without the additional subscription fees of cable.

Call it narrowcasting, or broadcasting to the fringes, or targeted television.  What it really is is broadcasters serving their entire viewing community.  Honestly, there’s really nothing “sub” about that.  It actually sounds more “super” when you really think about it.

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