Small channels have real challenges around distribution. In the US getting onto cable is a long and expensive exercise with individual companies like Comcast wielding huge power.
However, the internet is proving to be a good way of prototyping channels before taking them onto cable and traditional broadcast media. If they prove popular on internet tv, then they get onto the main EPG - this is something Telewest did with The Horror Channel after a successful internet try out.
Of course, in the future the question is more likely to be where you appear on the EPG; when they are 10,000 channels coming over IP the priority for the listings becomes more of an issue. Perhaps it will end up like YouTube, where the most popular appear at the top. The problem with this is that it becomes self-fulfilling. Anything that's easier to access will get more viewers and consequently will remain top of the system.
The challenge for smaller operators in the future will be to push their way up the list. I'll be blogging some more on techniques to attract audiences over the coming weeks.