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How Will Diginets Play into the Future of Streaming?

Matt Tamanini

With billion-dollar rights deals, high-profile launches, and star-studded content, it’s no surprise that much of the discussion around the streaming wars is focused on the deep-pocketed, big brand services that dominate this era of cord-cutter programming. But, as a recent article from Variety notes, a much more under-the-radar type of content platform is currently enjoying a surge.

The mid-aughts transition to digital allowed television channels to add sub-channels to their traditional feeds across most linear distributors. Essentially, one channel could be split into 10, meaning that in addition to the channel that customers had always received, there was now the option for networks to broadcast on up to nine other “diginets” (a portmanteau of “digital” and “networks”) under the same channel number. So if a network was broadcasting on channel 14, they also would have the ability to serve content on sub-channels 14.1 through 14.9.

In the modern broadcast environment, the allure of these channels is that they have the ability to draw in viewers across platforms. Not only are these diginets available to America’s 25 million broadband households via over-the-air (OTA) antennas, but they are also accessible via most major cable lineups and they are increasingly being offered as channels on free, ad-supported TV (FAST) platforms.

Just in recent weeks, we’ve seen Fox Weather land on multiple platforms and MeTV launch new channels on FAST services.

Of the 54 diginets now on the air, MeTV is by far the most popular with its mix of familiar, comforting nostalgic TV. In 2021, the channel averaged 752K primetime viewers, more than major cable networks Bravo, Lifetime, Investigation Discovery, A&E, AMC, and FX. In fact, an early entrant in the diginet explosion, MeTV has grown to pull in an average of more than 700K nightly viewers every year since 2018. The Grit network is the second most widely watched diginet at 412K viewers per night, followed by Bounce, Start TV, and MeTV’s sister site Heroes and Icons.

Given the success of these channels, it is no surprise that larger corporations like Fox, Disney, Paramount, and NBCU are getting into the game as well, especially since most of the diginet content is anchored in the types of programming attractive to older audiences that might not be inclined to subscribe to a streamer, thus further diversifying revenue streams. With 19 million homes in the United States being broadband only, the diginet mix of classic TV and movies, news, and basic cable-like true crime is a relatively cheap way to get in front of these viewers.

But, as that generation ages and/or becomes more open to streaming, the question becomes how do diginets adapt? Will they continue to serve as archives of iconic content that is not available on traditional streamers? Or, will they pivot to become homes of original content, like we’ve seen from platforms like Netflix and Hulu which started out as aggregators of programming created by outside studios, but morphed into studios themselves in order to control their content more fully?

With seemingly every major network and studio operating at least one streaming service, will OTA diginets — many of which are available across multiple streaming platforms as well — be gobbled up into exclusive FAST hubs, or even folded into the offerings of live TV streaming services or subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) content libraries?

Only time will tell, but given the strength of the content and its multi-platform availability, there should be little doubt that we will be hearing much more about diginets moving forward.