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A specialty channel can be a commercial broadcasting or non-commercial television channel which consists of television programming focused on a single genre, subject or targeted television market at a specific demographic.
The number of specialty channels has greatly increased during the 1990s and 2000s while the previously common model of countries having just a few (national) TV stations addressing all interest groups and demographics became increasingly outmoded, as it already had been for some time in several countries. About 65% of today's satellite channels are specialty channels.
Types of specialty services may include, but by no means are limited to:
(These categories are provided for convenience and do not necessarily represent industry-accepted or otherwise legally-binding names or categories for these types of services.)
Some specialty channels may not be free-to-air or may not be available through conventional broadcast television. Pay TV providers in particular often produce own specialty channels exclusively for their own network.
The term "specialty channel" has been used most frequently in Canada, having been used as a marketing term by the cable industry for various simultaneous launches of new channels throughout the 1990s. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) term for such a channel is specialty service (or even more explicitly "specialty television programming undertaking"), referring to virtually any non-premium television service which is not carried over the airwaves or otherwise deemed exempt by the CRTC. They are primarily carried, therefore, on cable television and satellite television.
All such services are specifically limited in regard to the types, and often the amount of said types, of programming that can be carried; the CRTC does not permit national general-interest cable-only channels in the style of USA Network or Turner Network Television. For instance, TSN can only air sports or sports-related programming, while Bravo cannot air any sports. This differs from the U.S., where several cable/satellite services such as USA or TNT regularly air programs from nearly all categories, and where there are no restrictions on "specialty" services in one category, such as news/opinion channel MSNBC, from airing programming from another category such as sports, as that particular service has on occasion.
There is nonetheless a certain amount of channel drift that occurs with certain Canadian specialty channels, depending on the specific licence conditions imposed by the CRTC. For example, MuchMusic remains licensed as a "mainstream music" channel but now carries a significant amount of youth-targeted drama/reality programming during prime viewing hours. On the other hand, unlike (for example) MTV in the U.S., its licence prevents it from dropping music programming entirely.
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