Big Four broadcasters still more essential than ESPN in pay-TV bundle, survey finds

The Big Four broadcast networks are still more essential to American TV consumers than cable networks like ESPN and Discovery Channel.

That's the takeaway from Solutions Research Group's eighth annual "Must Keep TV" survey of 1,400 U.S. consumers. When asked which channels were most important to them in the pay-TV bundle, American consumers said ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox ranked Nos. 1-4, in that order, followed by ESPN, Discovery, HBO, History Channel, PBS and AMC.

Among key male demos, however, ESPN is still king, ranking No. 1 among men 18-49, followed by Discovery and HBO. Among the younger demos, ABC, Fox and CBS ranked highest for adults 18-34.

Among networks, AMC--driven by programming hits such as The Walking Dead--experienced the biggest leap during the past five years, jumping 36 positions to rank No. 10 in the SRG survey. FX was another big gainer, up 14 spots to rank at No. 17 in the latest report.

The survey has relevance to pay-TV operators, which are dealing with fast-growing fees for broadcast retransmission licensing rights. SNL Kagan reported last week that total retrans fee payments made by U.S. operators will hit $9.8 billion by 2020, up from a forecast of $9.4 billion released in October.

For the first time for its annual survey, SRG asked participants what they'd do if their pay-TV provider removed their favorite channels. About 84 percent said they would take action, with 22 percent saying they'd switch providers, 11 percent saying they'd sign an online petition and 3 percent saying they'd complain to the FCC. 

The survey found that niche cable channels inspire the most brand loyalty. Asked which channels, if dropped by their operator, would cause consumers to, in turn, cancel their pay-TV subscription, the survey revealed the following ranking: Telemundo, Univision, NBC Sports Network, Fox News Channel, Bravo, History, ESPN, AMC, ESPN2 and FOX Sports 1.

For more:
- read this Solutions Research Group report

Related articles:
ESPN has lost 3.2M subs in the past year; could pull itself off Sling TV
Only 36% of consumers would add ESPN to their personal a la carte bundle, Digitalsmiths study says
SNL Kagan raises retrans fee forecast to $9.8B by 2020; Mediacom's CEO complains to FCC

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