As 2013 comes to a close, the major television conglomerates are doing some housekeeping — and that includes clearing the deck of some of their "zombie channels." Among the neglected networks stumbling toward the end of their runs: SoapNet is shutting down at the end of the year, while NBCUniversal owner Comcast has quietly announced that it is "ceasing distribution" of G4 at the start of January.
Meanwhile, A+E Networks announced this week that it would morph its neglected Bio channel into the lifestyle-oriented "FYI" sometime next year.
"Zombie channels" like SoapNet and G4 have survived due to the quirks of cable distribution. NBCUniversal had planned to flip G4 into the new Esquire Network this year, but at the 11th hour decided to turn Style into Esquire instead. Style boasted better distribution (including a slot on DirecTV, which had previously dumped G4) and was considered expendable because of its similarity to other NBCU channels like Oxygen and Bravo.
That gave G4 a stay of execution — but even at the time, NBCU said it had no plans to develop new programming or revive the channel. Once the home to signature original series like Attack of the Show and X Play, G4 canceled those programs at the end of 2012 and has existed on library and acquired fare for all of 2013.
Comcast's announcement that it will no longer distribute G4 means the channel will lose the majority of its carriage (including Comcast's own cable systems). But NBCU will continue to program the channel for a bit longer, as some cable operator deals haven't yet expired. That means, in some parts of the country, this zombie will continue to roam the dial for now.
As for SoapNet, the channel was originally set to shut down in 2012, as Disney/ABC planned to use the space to launch Disney Junior. But the company found enough interest in Disney Junior to launch the preschool channel on its own, and some cable operators lobbied Disney to keep SoapNet alive. It did — sort of. SoapNet continued to operate, but mostly as the walking dead. The channel stuck with soap repeats and other acquired shows (like Veronica Mars and Beverly Hills, 90210), but didn't actively pursue anything new.
It was just a matter of time before Disney/ABC pulled the plug. SoapNet will officially shut down on December 31 at 11:59 with a General Hospital repeat.
When media conglomerates decide to give up on a channel, they'll frequently replace it with a new concept. Discovery turned Planet Green — which operated on autopilot at the end of its life — into Destination America, for example. And that's what A+E is doing with Bio, which is a leftover brand from a time when the show Biography dominated parent channel A&E's airwaves.
But why decide to just shut a channel down completely? As one cable insider notes, even the big companies have a finite pool of money to invest in their channels — and it's all about priorities. Do you invest more cash in bolstering your vibrant, growing networks, or do you spend time and money trying to revive or launch a new one? In the case of SoapNet and G4 — not to mention the increasingly populated graveyard of other deceased outlets, like Fox Reality — those networks' owners simply decided to move on.