'Educational' TV Channels More Popular Than You Might Think

But I use that term loosely.

Cable TV is dangerously close to obsolescence, so there are always plenty of ideas floating around about how to keep it relevant. A popular one is the a la carte cable package, and even though we're not really sure if any cable providers actually want to offer such an option, its populist, customizable potential means we'll have fun speculating about it anyway. Instead of paying for 200 channels, most of which we can't even name, why can't we just get 15 or 20 of our favorites at a discounted price?


Well, it's probably not that simple. A cable package with 10 percent of the channels would certainly cost a lot more than 10 percent of the original price (full customizability doesn't come cheap). But, perhaps just for fun, Variety published the results of a market-research survey that asked people which channels they'd want to purchase (they could select as many as they wanted). ABC was the leader, with two-thirds of respondents selecting it, but in second place, ahead of the other three broadcast networks, was The Discovery Channel. The Outlet Formerly Known As The History Channel (now just "History") came in fifth, with National Geographic right behind it. A graph of the complete results is available at the link above.  

It's been said plenty of times before, but it bears repeating that these channels are far from the ones your grandfather watched to get his fix of World War II documentaries and nature shows. Programs like Swamp People, Ice Road Truckers, and — do I even have to say it? — Ancient Aliens fit with the theoretically educational missions of these channels in the same way CSI is an introductory course in forensic science. Still, PBS came in eighth, well ahead of channels like TLC and ESPN.

Respondents said that they would be willing to pay about $38 per month for a customized cable subscription, and their lineups of choice consisted of around 17 channels. Compare that to the average real-life cable bill, which is well over $100, and you'll realize that choose-your-own-adventure cable is probably a long way off. Still, it's cool that people are thinking about tweaks to our TV-watching experience that are, at least in theory, more individualized and less costly. And, of course, it's heartening that's there's hope for educational TV. It got us thinking: If Discovery and Nat Geo are doing so well, at least a few of you would go for Big Think TV, right? We would try to keep the aliens to a minimum.

While individuals can't program streaming services like Hulu and Netflix with the exact content they want, these on-demand services do offer a lot of television watching for a relatively small price. The mobile technology that hosts these digital offerings are being adopted more quickly all over the world, explains James Manyika, director at the McKinsey Global Institute.

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