The demise of Spike and Esquire could signal the end of male-targeted channels

Esquire and Spike’s fates are due to diminishing demand for their targeted content and more general trends affecting niche networks. Image: Esquire
Ben Munson

The era of “lad” media on TV may be coming to a close as Spike Network and Esquire Network both shuffle off the channel guide.

In January, NBCUniversal made the decision to shutter the Esquire Network linear channel and transition to a digital brand with a smaller staff. The decision came after the network in December lost 15 million subscribers in one fell swoop when AT&T dropped the channel from both its U-verse and DirecTV platforms.

Then in February, as part of a new strategic vision, Viacom announced that it would rebrand long-running male-targeted network Spike as The Paramount Network.

Kevin Kay, Spike’s chief who had recently been given the reins at CMT and TV Land as well, said in an internal memo obtained by Deadline that the new Paramount Network will take Spike’s “strong programming mix and amplify it with the Paramount brand.”

That will include scripted and non-scripted original programming—with dramas, comedies, documentaries, movies, sports and tentpole events. It will also incorporate third-party programming, as well as films from other studio’s libraries, according to Kay. The network will serve as a landing page for content from other Viacom networks like CMT and TV Land as well as focus on the more general interest content available from Paramount Studios.

The changed fates for Esquire and Spike are part of a larger trend to cull (or at least de-emphasize) struggling linear networks. Viacom’s new plans include six core networks—BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Paramount—meaning that the programmer’s other networks, including VH1, CMT, Logo and more, can count on less love and support moving forward.

NBCU, after deciding to pull Esquire off the air, also shut down Cloo, its crime and mystery channel. And Participant Media-owned Pivot, which focused on social advocacy issues, called it quits in 2016, just three years after launching.

But the end—more or less—of Esquire and Spike seems to spell doom for the male-targeted cable network.

Independent media analyst Alan Wolk told FierceBroadcasting that Esquire and Spike’s fates are due to diminishing demand for their targeted content and more general trends affecting niche networks.

He said that channels like Esquire and Spike target younger guys but that demographic is not watching a lot of linear broadcast TV anymore.

Wolk said there’s enough other content like live sports that appeals to male demographics, so programmers don’t really need to have the niche that networks like Esquire and Spike were offering. He added that Esquire never really seemed to figure out why it should matter to 20- and 30-year-old guys.

According to Nielsen, men ages 18-34 gravitate most toward cable networks like ESPN, TNT and Comedy Central, all of which try to cater to more audiences than just males.

As part of a broader trend, Wolk expects niche networks like Esquire and Spike to scale down to about 15 to 30 hours of original programming per week and function solely as VOD services. He said that trend could take shape over the next year to three years.

“It doesn’t make sense for them to pay for all the syndicated programming needed to keep the channel going all day every week,” Wolk said.

He added that, as MVPDs like Comcast move toward more recommendations instead of only the programming grid, VOD offerings will be less buried than they were in the past, making a VOD-only strategy more viable in terms of audience reach.

Esquire and Spike likely won’t be the only niche channels to fall out of linear TV—female-targeted networks aren't immune from the pruning either. For example, along with the changes to Esquire and Cloo, NBCU also revamped female-targeted channel Oxygen toward true crime programming.

But for the time being, it looks like male-targeted networks are high on the endangered channels list. - Ben, @FierceBrdcstng