When I picked on cable companies for their HD channel numbers

Years ago, there was a freelancer here at The Solid Signal Blog named Bill Van. I suspect he’s still out there somewhere. Bill would pass along information and tips, and while he didn’t write articles himself he always had great background info to add.

A while back Bill asked me if I would write an article about how cable TV guides always had HD channels up in the high numbers. You can find that article here. Not only does it explain that common practice but it also explained why it was so easy for DIRECTV to have channel numbers that made sense. For example, your local channel 7 could be on channel 7 in the guide.

That was then, but it made me wonder…

Do channel numbers even matter anymore?

DIRECTV’s original rollout of its new Genie guide put a lot less emphasis on channel numbers and a lot more on channel logos. AT&T sort of “walked that back” when they realized that the channel logos weren’t always the easiest to read. However, DIRECTV NOW and Sling have never had channel numbers. There’s a rumor that you’ll see them on some version of DIRECTV NOW at some point, but that has yet to happen. It really seems like there’s a fight brewing behind the scenes

On the one side… channel number fanatics

If you’ve been with a cable or satellite provider for a decade or more you might know the channel numbers of all of your favorites. You might refer to your locals as “Channel 4,” “Channel 7,” “Channel 50” or whatever. That’s very common for people who grew up turning the knobs on the front of the television.

Folks like this are tied to channel numbers. It’s how the world makes sense for them. There are even people who are afraid to cut the cord or even transition to a live streaming TV service because they’re afraid that the lack of channel numbers will be too confusing.

On the other side… the folks who don’t care about channel numbers

There’s a completely different group who really don’t care a bit about channel numbers, or even about a grid-style guide. Millennials grew up in a largely on-demand world and they’re not incredibly interested in “what’s on now.” They think in terms of programs, not channels. Most probably couldn’t tell you when something aired or what channel it was on. It’s more important that it show up in some sort of curated list like a DVR playlist or TV suggestion list.

This sort of person is bad news for networks trying to gain loyalty. However, the fact is this is the future of TV. We’re all headed there… we just need to move slowly enough to keep everyone happy.

So channel numbers matter, for now at least

One by one, live TV services have learned their lesson. While we’re all probably moving to a numberless future, we can’t rush in getting there. There is a whole generation, still devoted to television, who wants to engage using channel numbers. That generation plans on being around for a long time. I would expect that channel numbers will also be around for just as long.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.