As opposed to broadcasting; in theory, this was the thing that was supposed
to be the crowning touch of the Age of Cable Television - a cornucopia
of TV tailored to small niches. In practice, we get dross offloaded from
over-the-air TV: professional wrestling, endless reruns of shows and
movies we didn't want to see anyway, trash sports, and infomercials. But there's a few small victories, like Absolutely Fabulous and MST3K.

A problem with “narrowcasting” is that as niches become more sharply defined they also become smaller. This is a problem for the TV companies that make their money through the sale of advertising spots in their commercial breaks. A small audience will yield small ad revenue.

The counter argument is that a better-defined audience makes for more valuable media; consequently the average 30s spot on “Men and Motors” should be more valuable to a Ford than the equivalent spot on “Sky 1”. The specialist channels allow advertisers to develop niche-marketing campaigns that are supposedly more cost effective.

Both these arguments are true; since the cost of running a channel is falling, the narrowcasting business model is becoming increasingly more viable. Accordingly, the number of TV channels is increasing.

Most people think that this kind of media fragmentation is a bad thing. In the 80’s, TV pundits predicted that this approach to channel design would result in more choice. Actually, the opposite seems to be true. The reason is that, all channels no matter how small have to fill up a schedule – small channels can only afford to show a few premium shows so the rest of the content has to be cheaper padding.

Although there are the same amounts of good shows out as there always were, they have been diluted by a far greater quantity of bad shows. It’s harder for people to find the things they want to see. This has fuelled the demand for products like TiVo and Video on Demand – both systems actively overcome the weaknesses of narrowcasting.

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