Big Four Networks Top 2011 ‘Must Keep’ TV Survey

ABC is back on top as the leading ‘must keep’ TV brand in the U.S. and even potential cord-cutters have their list of networks and cable channels they can’t do without, according to the latest edition of our “Must Keep TV” report.

The fourth edition of the independent tracking survey is based on interviews with 1,400 American consumers 12+ in early March 2011. It reveals what TV brands consumers just must have, the ones which are gaining in popularity and others that are slipping.

ABC was identified as the top “must-keep” TV brand (by 47% of all respondents interviewed), narrowly beating CBS, FOX, and NBC.istock_000002229191medium1

However, while the four big broadcast networks remain the most important TV brands for viewers, the number of Americans who include at least one in their set of ‘must keep’ channels is down to 77% in 2011 from 83% in 2007. The percentage including at least two networks is now 51%, down 9 points from its benchmark level of 60% in 2007. Eighty-four percent of 50+ Americans include at least one network as part of their essential channels, compared to only 68% of those 20-29.

On the cable side, ESPN is the top cable brand again this year, following the four major networks. Discovery, Food, History, USA and TNT round out the 2011 Top 10.

For the first time since 2007, HBO failed to make the top 10 most powerful TV brands in the U.S. (now ranked #13), while TNT jumped into the top 10, up two spots from #12 in 2009. Besides TNT, the top movers were: Disney, Lifetime and National Geographic.

Drilling down into demographic splits, ABC stayed #1 among 18-49 year-olds. The top five cable nets in the 18-49 in 2011 were: ESPN, Discovery, Food, History and Comedy Central. CNN was the top news “must keep” brand coming in at #22 for 18-49s versus Fox News at #32.

Driven by the popularity of Jersey Shore, MTV showed gains across the board, rising 10 spots to #23 among 18-49 year-olds and to #11 for the 18-34 crowd. Food Network also jumped into the top 10 in the 18-34 age category for the first time since 2007.

When it comes to those who identify themselves as potential cord-cutters (those who reported seriously considering dropping their TV subscription sometime over the past six months), even they have TV brands they can’t live without. ABC was the top network potential cord-cutters said they have to keep followed by CBS, FOX and NBC. Rounding out the top 10 among this group were: Discovery, History, ESPN, A&E, Food and Comedy Central.

Technical: ‘Must Keep TV’  tracking is an independent syndicated brand tracking survey conducted by Solutions Research Group (SRG) among a representative sample of American consumers. This is the 4th edition of the survey (2007, ‘08, ‘09, and now ‘11). The questions have been fielded and presented in the same manner each wave. The 2011 research is based on online interviews with 1,400 American consumers 12+ conducted in early March 2011 – the sample captures and represents all major population segments.

Respondents are shown a list of 72 leading network/cable brands and are asked to identify which ones would be on their ‘must keep TV’ list if they had to choose a limited number. Sample design is balanced by geography, gender and ethnicity, including African-American and English-speaking Hispanics according to known universe parameters. For more information, email