As an increasing number of satellite television homes opt for cable, a rush of cable-only channels is beginning to affect viewing loyalty

June’s BARB figures showed that 4.35 million homes had satellite TV and that well over 1 million of these were cable. With 1 million-plus homes and 3.5 million viewers, cable is now a major TV market. This explains the recent surge in cable-only channels – an emerging opportunity to build viewing and cable operator loyalty in a fast-growing market.

BARB’s Astra panel has about 850 homes. Of these, well over 200 are cable – that’s 600-plus cable individuals using peoplemeters daily to record their viewing.

Although the cable-only channels are not listed by BARB, their viewing is collected and published within “all other channels”. BARB lists only 21 satellite channels by name. However, examining the difference between dish and cable viewing in “other non-listed channels” provides some useful insights.

In June, 36 per cent of viewing in cable homes was satellite TV. The figure was 34 per cent in dish homes – not much difference. “Other non-listed channels”, including cable-only channels, accounted for an average of 82 minutes of weekly viewing in cable homes – 15 per cent of total satellite viewing. In dish homes “other non-listed channels” took 35 minutes – an eight per cent share. The cable exclusives are making an impact, and seem to have about seven to eight per cent of all satellite viewing.

Channel One and Live TV are taking advantage of one of cable’s unique strengths – local access. Channel One only focuses on London. Live TV also has a London bias, but will soon provide local programming for other cities. The national BARB figures show that regional news often gets larger audiences than national news. After all, local paid-for local newspapers sell 14 million copies a week.

Cable viewers also watch less of BSkyB movies and sport than dish people. Movies take a quarter of satellite viewing in dish homes, just a seventh in cable. This is mainly because the pay channel-to-free channel ratios are much lower in cable. New subscribers are less likely to be persuaded to take the pay channels than new dish purchasers in the high street. But in the future it is likely that, as cable grows, so will the cable pay channel-to-free channel ratio – premium movies and sport are an essential and popular part of the satellite package.

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