Many cable channels are created to fulfill a specific programming niche, and their name is Exactly What It Says on the Tin ó the Golf Channel shows golf, the Game Show Network shows Game Shows, and so on.
Some channels, however, are not as wedded to their original concept as others. Meddling executives look at the demographics to whom their channel appeals and decide that, hey, since the people watching their Speculative Fiction channel are mostly males aged 18 to 31, and Professional Wrestling is hot among that demographic, surely no one would mind if they started showing pro-wrestling!
The fans of the original programming will mind, of course, but the channel tends to keep going regardless. This may show up with only a couple of odd programs in the schedule, but far too often, given enough time, a channel will have pretty much abandoned its original concept. Whether or not the former invariably leads to the latter is a subject for debate.
Since the network is strongly impacted by the ratings, and the highest ratings go to generally the same few demographics, this tends to lead to networks becoming more and more like each other, either in similar programming or outright airing the same shows.
Some changes can be chalked up to the changing landscape of TV. As the number of channels goes up, networks re-align themselves to try and hold some of their market. That, or the parent companies who might own seven or more cable channels each shuffle stuff for "synergy" or to reduce redundancy. Competition with new media is prevalent as well — classic reruns have given way to DVD box sets and On-Demand channels (and the real killer, Netflix and similar streaming services), music video channels have given way to YouTube and iTunes, and info-dumping all-text channels have given way to the data display in a digital cable box, smartphone apps (once again, the real killer) or some new-fangled webernet site. Other times, it's just shifting to whatever the network feels will attract the biggest audience — and the audience that lets them charge the most for ads (especially the lucrative young adult demographic, needless to say).
Depending on the network and how the decay is carried out, changing concepts can be either good or bad for the channel. If the Network Decay works out, it may expose the channel to thousands, if not millions of new viewers, who would normally never watch the network in the first place. Or perhaps the earlier direction just was not working out and the network made changes in order to get better and more profitable programming. Furthermore, there are several good shows floating around in Development Hell that wouldn't stand a chance of getting picked up unless a network decides to spread its wings. If the decay doesn't work out, however, then it can create a Broken Base among the channel's viewers, and can throw the network into an Audience-Alienating Era. Even if the decay works, the expanded viewership would come for naught for the various programs now squeezed out of the network's scheduling - once again, pointing out that good and bad can come of it, depending on the viewer.
See Magazine Decay for the print equivalent. See also Artifact Title, They Changed It, Now It Sucks!, Screwed by the Network, and Adored by the Network. Public Medium Ignorance may be a cause for some of the listed networks. If the network decays so much that it's renamed to fit the new focus, then the older network no longer exists and it's a case of Network Death. If it starts overlapping with politics, then it can cross over into Strawman News Media.
Has nothing to do with frayed Ethernet cables or malfunctioning routers.
- Influences on Other Media
Instances of this phenomenon when it comes to related mediums (Radio, Magazines, Websites, etc).
- Magazine Decay has its own page.
- In Universe Examples
In-Universe lampshades and mockeries of this phenomenon. Also, fictional networks.
- Major Shifts That Fit
The channel has been pushing or narrowing the limits on what they can show without leaving their genre entirely and/or are being too over reliant on a Cash-Cow Franchise or two, but at least what they are doing still fits the original mission somewhat.
- Notable Aversions
The channel has managed to avoid decay, either by working on a genre that is broad enough that it is unnecessary to decay, or that the executives feel that channel is good enough that they donít need to. Of course obviously any channel that is not listed on this page would probably count as this, but weíve listed a few (honorable) mentions.
The channel still shows programming related to its original concept, although it is significantly showing programming not related to their genre in some way.
- Temporary Shifts
The channel, after decaying for a while, has since returned to its roots and are showing programming related to their original mission again.
- Total Abandonment
The channel, with the exception of perhaps a few shows, has long abandoned its original concept.
- Unique Situations
The channelís decay either is in a situation where it doesnít fit any of the other categories, or is constantly fluctuating between decaying and recovering.