A Brief History of Medical & Health TV Networks

The very first all medical themed TV network launched in 1982 and was called Cable Health Network. In November 1983, it was renamed Lifetime Medical Television (LMT). LMT appeared on the Lifetime Network on Sundays. Lifetime’s concept of programming targeted to the female demographic was not an overnight success and LMT provided a much needed revenue stream. Direct to consumer TV advertising did not exist for the pharmaceutical industry at that time, but millions were being spent on TV ads on LMT to target doctors.

I joined LMT in New York in 1992 to launch “This Week in the New England Journal of Medicine” which was to be the network’s prestigious flagship. This is the one and only time NEJM had a weekly national TV series and it was very well received.

The only constant in broadcast and cable television is disruption, however. Several trends were developing simultaneously to change the market quickly. It took much longer than expected, but Lifetime Television for women as a concept was finally getting much deserved traction. Clinton Healthcare Reform was underway and even though it failed to become a reality, it roiled the pharmaceutical industry, nevertheless. Economic models were shifting. The gates for direct to consumer advertising opened, escalating from $55 million in annual revenue in 1991 to $363 million by 1995. TV ads for doctors and sponsored programming targeted to physicians was becoming less economically viable.

Lifetime Medical Television closed its doors in September 1993. As I was cleaning out my desk, my phone rang, and it was one of the owners of Orbis Broadcast Group, which supplied the programming for American Medical Television. American Medical Television (AMT) was supported by the American Medical Association, with production support from the Orbis Broadcast Group in Chicago. Originally appearing on Discovery, AMT was lured away from Discovery by CNBC which was looking for a programming block on the weekends, when there was no business news. Doctor-directed programming on the weekend was ideal because it matched the same higher income demographics that CNBC targeted weekdays and it had a built-in advertising base.

Meanwhile, Discovery launched its own dedicated health channel, Discovery Health in 1998. And while the channel garnered respectable numbers, Discovery decided to use it as a platform to launch Oprah’s network, OWN in 2011. Fit TV was born at the same time to try to address the void left by Discovery Health, but it was never completely successful as a standalone. In 2015, Discovery took over Fit TV to create Discovery Fit & Health, which is now known as Discovery Life.

None of the channels offered live regular programming. With the advent of social media and the growing importance of audience engagement, live content had become much more essential. The first live medical show via broadcast, satellite or internet was Doctor Radio on Sirius XM, which launched in 2008. Doctor Radio is a Sirius XM Radio station which broadcasts health & medical information programmed by the NYU Langone Medical Center. The channel is located on channel 110 on both the XM Satellite Radio service and on the Sirius Satellite Radio service. Although it is called Doctor Radio, it really targets a cross over audience of healthcare professionals as well as health-conscious consumers.

Now, following the model of live programming established by Doctor Radio, comes the new TV Health Channel from PBS. In August of last year South Florida PBS, in partnership with Baptist Health South Florida, launched the new Health Channel. On the air, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Health Channel, All Health All the Time is the only 24/7 health and medical TV channel in the nation. The primary target is healthcare consumers, not professionals.
The Health Channel provides easy and quick access to medical experts who can answer viewers’ questions on health and wellness concerns. A wide range of issues are addressed, including child psychology, care for the aging, health insurance, breast cancer, orthopedic and sports injuries, medical breakthroughs, and heart health, among many others.

Additionally, the Health Channel includes an interactive component that responds and provides information to members of the communities we serve through multiple platforms including a dedicated phone line, online via www.allhealthtv.com and through dedicated social media channels @allhealthtv. While the Health Channel is designed for cable, it is the first truly live OTT medical network, consumers can watch live anywhere in the USA at www.allhealthtv.com between 7:00 am and 2:00 pm Eastern. If you’d like to learn more about the Health Channel, check out the website or reach out to me at bgarrett@southfloridapbs.org