The Evolution of Channels

Throughout the course of entertainment history, the distribution method of content has become increasingly progressive through the concept of channels. For television, it’s easy to understand how we’ve progressed:

  • 3, 5, and 8 — With the initial production of the TV came your most basic channels. My grandmother recalls “3, 5, and 8” as the local stations that had on programming in black and white. Options and selection were extremely limited, but the concept of video coming through a box was revolutionary.
  • Basic Cable—So now that we’ve got some basic channels, it’s time to expand our offerings. Cable channels across a handful of categories begin to pop up. Sports, science, history, politics, music (videos and more). There’s a huge leap in the amount of content to offer watchers, but still there are limitations. TV is pretty much just live and not easily recorded. If you missed last night’s show, you had to hope for a rerun in the coming days.
  • More advanced cable (and features too!) — continued advancement of more defined channels, to the point where people complain that there’s too many options out there. High-product, high-quality content begins to advance and comes as an add-on to traditional cable bundles. Features come along too. Recording, searching, and digital guides help people understand what’s out there now, what’s happening soon, and what you missed earlier.
  • Digital revolution—huge explosion of channels and content. The ultimate move from general to niche content. A channel dedicated to “sports” now becomes a channel dedicated to “skateboarders doing tricks at Venice Beach”. Generalists become unfocused, and specific interests are brought out and rewarded. Having niche, differentiated content is praised. In addition, content on demand becomes a reality. Watch what you want, when you want, (and more recently) where you want.

Some believe that this explosion of channels and how we as individuals consume them is leading to the “cord cutter” and “cord never” mentality and unbundling of the traditional cable offering. While I’m unsure if this is the driving reason behind slowed adoption of the cable bundle, the a la carte mentality around selection of content to consume certainly does not bode well for bundle enthusiasts. Individual preferences are becoming more prevalent, and the technology in place now has allowed for these preferences to be attainable through various media forms. The economics behind bundling are a separate conversation, however.

The concept of “channel” as well doesn’t necessarily just apply to television and video. In particular, music has followed a nearly identical pattern. Live radio led to albums/tapes/CDs, which led to party mixes, which led to self-created playlists for the iPod, which led to monthly subscriptions to a nearly infinite music library through streaming and subscription services.


As we continue to evolve forward with channels, content creators and platforms alike are trying to match consumer interests with production efforts. The decreasing cost of producing content has allowed for more individual efforts and niches to be discovered by both creators and viewers. The proliferation of new channels with even more targeted content helps individual consumers develop of a unique set of interests that are satisfied with the existing offerings.

Platforms are focused on driving efficiency within their user experience, and I believe they are looking to solve two main questions when focusing on innovation on their product:

  1. How does one find what they are looking for as quickly as possible?
  2. How does one enjoy 100% of what they find and consume?

Discovery around new content (or new channels of content) is always tricky. Undoubtedly the cost to adopt new and unfamiliar content is higher than the cost to adopt familiar content. With so many new channels coming on board to satisfy more niche demographics, channels will continue to fight and compete for viewers.

As I think about the next stage in this evolution, one of the biggest differentiators I see is related to platform. Despite the large influx in the number of channels, content is still 2-dimensional. Whether on a TV, phone, or tablet, content still sits on a screen. With heavy investment focused on content generation and technology built for content distribution, it’s time to think more about using alternative methods of consuming content. Maybe it is time virtual reality makes a splash in the digital entertainment game (some would argue that it already has).

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