How to Start a Cable Channel


On August 1, 1981, video killed the radio star when Music Television (MTV) launched and changed the entire landscape of Americans' lives. With those early sports (ESPN), news (CNN) and music cable television stations, a steady climb began to now thousands of channels on nearly every topic imaginable. If you ever had a dream to own your own station, now is as good a time as any.

Things You'll Need

  • Financial backing
  • Employees
  • Content
  • Contracts with distributors
  • Advertisers/sponsors

Create a Plan

  • Brainstorm about what type of channel people care to watch and why it's not on the air yet. Or explore how you can take a themed channel that's already established and make it better.

  • Find out how much it will cost to build out your headquarters. How many employees will you need? How much production space? Original programming or do you need to purchase content? Website design. Where do you want your cable network to operate out of? For example, if you want to start a baby network, maybe you set up shop near a hospital.

  • Research your ideas with surveys and focus groups of potential viewers.

  • Compare and contrast your channel with current television offerings.

  • Focus your attitude and commit yourself to see this idea through to the end, until all money and resources are exhausted or until the channel is launched.

Find Money and Content

  • Write an executive summary detailing your plan. Create graphics, a programming grid, demographics of who will watch your channel, five-year plan for success and target launch date.

  • Pitch your plan to venture capitalists who might be willing to take a chance on your idea. Approach people in the industry whose products will be featured on your channel or who might be potential advertisers. Going to an established media company is useless because they have 20 of you on staff coming up with their own ideas.

  • Once money is secure, find a location for the headquarters, sign contracts and begin hiring young, tech savvy and enthusiastic people for minimum pay to help keep costs low. They will be willing to work long hours to help you with this dream. Offer plenty of unpaid internships to give students and recent graduates experience.

  • Begin purchasing programming or put out requests for production companies to provide you with original programming. Make sure to have the right balance between reality shows and scripted programs to ensure your channel does not get labeled as leaning too much towards one or the other.

  • Put your programming into a grid to outline what the weekly schedule will look like.

Distribution and Advertising

  • Time to put that young sales team to the test. They have to call up all the cable distributors across the United States and the satellite companies as well. From Time Warner to Comcast, each cable distributor will want to negotiate a flat fee with you per consumer that will be fed to the network. They will want to get the smallest amount out of you, and if your station has nothing but recycled programming to offer, they may succeed. Bank on getting a less-than-fair shake with the cable companies until you can prove success.

  • Once you've been picked up, it's time to sell some advertisements for that award-winning programming. Hit up some of the same people who helped you launch the station, selling them on the benefits.

  • Time to launch and see all your hard work live up to the challenge.

  • Do surveys of viewers, track growth, build a base by running promotions and contests with local channels and events.

Tips & Warnings

  • Do not get frustrated, this will take a long time to develop. Keep knocking on people's doors and sending out letters and emails, if you truly believe in your concept. Sit down with somebody in the business to find out the ins and outs of dealing with network executives, competition for programming and distribution issues.
  • Watch out for people stealing your idea. Scam artists will promise the world for fees and will not deliver a dime. If the network is your idea, do not let anyone else misrepresent you in meetings or charge you fees for initial assistance. Be vary of people taking you down at every turn. Be nice to everyone, even if they reject you for initial funding; after success, they may come back and want to advertise with you.


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