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August 21, 2012

TLC's gamble: Sticking to reality

(Continued)

Still, being known for a type of programming doesn't preclude cable networks from branching out into new formats. And they may have no choice but to diversify to remain competitive.

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As much as viewers eat up reality shows, their appetite for well-executed, scripted shows is just as voracious. AMC proved that with the success of such original series as "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad."

"AMC has been on a tear for original-scripted programming," said Noah Everist, associate director of media investments at ad agency Campbell Mithun.

AMC's slate of top-rated series such as "The Walking Dead" delivered a 30 percent increase in advertising revenue in the first three months of the year.

"High-quality scripted shows are always in high demand from advertisers," said Todd Gordon, executive vice president and U.S. director at MagnaGlobal, an advertising firm.

Brands enjoy the cachet of being tied to premium programming and the audience it delivers. Still, advertisers essentially chase ratings and will hitch their wagons to any show that can deliver numbers.

"Top-rated reality shows like 'American Idol' and 'Survivor' are among the most desirable places to advertise," Gordon said, "but in general there is more demand for scripted programming."

As a result, more cable networks are testing the waters.

The History channel made its foray into original scripted programming with "Hatfields & McCoys," a miniseries that averaged 14 million viewers across its three-night run starting on Memorial Day. The historical drama about warring families set a new record as the highest-rated entertainment show on ad-supported basic cable, according to Nielsen.

History, known for documentaries and reality series such as "Pawn Stars," is slowly diversifying its lineup. Plans call for History's first full-scripted drama, "Vikings," to hit the air next year.

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