TV's 6 New Cable Networks: Who's Winning in the Ratings

7:00 AM PST 09/26/2013 by Alex Ben Block
Esquire Network
Aziz Ansari tours Hong Kong in Esquire’s travel series "The Getaway."

NBCUniversal's Esquire Network joins a season of other newbies from Fox Sports to FXX that have produced mixed initial results.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

On paper, it seems like a terrible time to launch a TV network: Cable systems are trimming lineups and dropping low-rated channels, especially those that aren't part of groups owned by conglomerates such as 21st Century Fox or NBCUniversal. At the same time, there is more competition than ever from digital platforms.

Yet the past three months have seen at least six high-profile cable channel launches, including the Sept. 23 rebranding of Style as Esquire Network, targeting upscale men. Several of them, including Al Jazeera America and Pivot, have arrived with investments of $100 million or more but relatively low ratings so far.

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Pivot president Evan Shapiro says the millennial-targeting network has been frustrated by the media image of its audience as cord-cutters who don't watch TV.

"Breaking that mythology has been harder than I thought," he says. Still, most owners see their networks as investments that, if they fill a niche, can generate hundreds of millions of dollars down the line. But that's a big if. Says Steve Bellamy, whose upcoming Surf Network is his third cable launch after successful nets devoted to tennis and skiing: "If you're going to start something new, you're going to have to come at it in a nontraditional way or you'll be gone very quickly."

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