Just nine months ago, USA President Chris McCumber was talking to me about his network’s push into comedy, and preaching patience. Looks like his patience has worn thin, because USA announced that it is retreating from comedy and refocusing on drama, while AMC has pulled the plug on almost its entire reality slate as it, too, opts to concentrate on what it does best. As I explained at Quartz,
Those surprising moves were in part explained by a Wall Street Journal report that the US top 40 most widely distributed cable channels in 2010—USA and AMC included—have lost an average of 3.2 million subscribers, or more than 3% of their distribution, during the last four years, as consumers have starting “shaving the cord” by opting for smaller, cheaper bundles of channels.
Intent on not being shaved out of existence, networks are refocusing on keeping their core audiences happy, rather than trying and attract new viewers. “In an environment of exploding content options for viewers,” AMC said in explaining its decision, “we have decided to make scripted programming our priority.”
Both networks damaged their core business by taking their eye off the ball, and their sudden retrenching should also be a red flag for E! and Bravo, which are both branching into scripted series for the first time.