Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Goodbye Documentary Channel

A few weeks ago I was flipping through the channels, and watched the last half of the Frank Capra-produced (but not directed by him) The Negro Soldier on the Documentary Channel. I think it was during one of the commercial breaks that there was an ad saying that on August 1, young viewers would have a chance to "pivot" to something socially interactive and focusing on the different way that the twentysomethings use media, or some buzzword-filled nonsense like that. At any rate, the upshot of it is that Documentary Channel has been bought out by another company, which is replacing it with some channel called Pivot.

I didn't watch the Documentary Channel that often, since there were a lot of repeats, and a fair amount of stuff that didn't particularly interest me. But it's still a shame to see it go. I think that part of it is that when I see a bunch of older people trying to claim they're coming up with media that's "relevant" to the younger demographic, the stuff comes across to me as inauthentic. The owners (in this case Participant Media) claim their socially and politically relevant to young people, much as with Al Gore and Current back when he founded that, but I can't help but wonder whether that will include the political views of the folks who don't agree with Gore or the folks who run Participant Media.

The other (and probably more important) thing, which has nothing to do with politics, is that this displays the precarious situation of those cable channels that don't have a big corporate owner -- and ironically, Current is in the same boat. Current came into being and had the reach it did in part because Al Gore was able to buy another channel, Newsworld International, which had a spot on DirecTV's lineup, which guaranteed the channel access to ten million or more households. Participant, I'd presume, really only wanted to buy Documentary not for the channel's content, but because it's got a spot on DirecTV's channel lineup. And indeed, the same thing has happened quite a few times to various channels, including Current, which was bought by Al Jazeera at the end of last year.

I'd argue that the only reason we're still able to have TCM and what's left of the Fox Movie Channel on relatively low programming tiers is that they're both owned by corporate entities that own a whole bunch of more profitable channels, where the debate with the various cable and satellite providers is, "put all of these channels in your line-up, or you don't get the popular ones that are the only ones you really want".