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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:
- Adult channels
- Children's interest channels
- Documentary channels
- Men's interest channels
- Movie channels
- Music channels
- News channels
- Public affairs (broadcasting)
- Public, educational, and government access
- Quiz channels
- Shopping channels
- Sports channels
- Religious broadcasting
- Women's interest channels
(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.
Canadian specialty channels
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 of programming that can be carried; unless they are specifically licensed as such, a specialty channel cannot devote more than a specific quota of content to live sports programming, and a service licensed as a mainstream sports network is restricted in their carriage of non-sport programming. The CRTC previously enforced stricter regulations on the types of programming that may be carried by specialty services, employing minimums and restrictions across specific genres on a per-licence basis, and a category system granting exclusive rights to specific categories of channels. These restrictions were imposed to discourage networks from deviating from the programming format which they were licenced to broadcast.