The Reelz network — privately owned by a Hubbard Broadcasting subsidiary — turns 10 on Tuesday (Sept. 27). It launched in 2006 with access to about 30 million homes and has grown that reach to about 70 million today. Two years in, it moved to Albuquerque, N.M., from Los Angeles to save money. CEO Stan E. Hubbard, who moved there, too, from the Minneapolis area, told The Wire last week “we haven’t looked back.”
Reelz has to keep overhead down, he pointed out, because the only revenue coming in is from ad sales (which he said are up 600% over the past five years). “Every penny of that and more has gone on the screen,” Hubbard said. “My family, we’re the ones that have been funding this business. We’ve not turned a profit yet. But when you’re a family business you can think generationally.”
Hubbard Broadcasting, founded by grandfather Stanley E. Hubbard and chaired by father Stanley S. Hubbard, started in radio in 1925 and now owns 14 TV stations and 48 radio stations.
Next year will see another big milestone: Reelz’s deals call for a license fee to kick in, per Hubbard, who said it’s a very small one that’s been a long time coming.
“When we launched, we told all of our distributors, ‘We’ll be back. We believe in what we’re building — give us a chance, we’ll earn it.’ And I think for the vast majority of our distribution, they recognize it, and we’ve earned it and we’ll come into January and just keep moving along.”
According to Reelz, several unannounced distribution renewals have been done over the last year to 18 months, including deals with DirecTV, Dish Network, Comcast and Charter Communications. Hubbard said he’s continuing to look for improvements in such basic areas as channel position, high-definition carriage and packaging.
On DirecTV and Dish, where it’s carried in HD on favorable channels, it’s a top 50 network, versus ranking 68th overall, according to the company. Only about two-thirds of Reelz’s overall carriage is in HD, Hubbard said.
Given some carriage sweeteners, Reelz could be a top- 50 network overall, he contends. And if it could break into the top 40, “probably with the lowest rate in the business, we have an extremely successful business.”
Key moments for Reelz were opportunistic pickups of the A&E-scrubbed miniseries The Kennedys in 2011 — Reelz has a sequel of sorts, The Kennedys – After Camelot, starring Matthew Perry (as Ted Kennedy) and Katie Holmes (reprising her role as Jackie Kennedy), planned for April 2017 — and of the Miss USA pageant in 2015. Hubbard said the new Kennedy miniseries “is going to be one of the highest-profile, best things people are going to see next year.”
Since airing Miss USA, Reelz has shifted to more female-skewing programming and packed its schedule with pulpy fact-based shows centered on Hollywood and celebrity scandal. This summer it renewed five series and greenlit 15 new ones, including Rich and Acquitted, Hollywood Homicide Uncovered and Scandal Made Me Famous.
One disappointment for Reelz: Cox Communications has never carried the network, even though Baton Rouge, La., a Cox market, was the Miss USA pageant’s host city in 2015. Reelz also has actively solicited aid for Baton Rouge since the recent floods. “[Cox] missed 10 years of free, but somewhere along the line they’re going to have to see this network is actually here to stay, and we’ll get something done,” Hubbard said.
NCTA, Dairy Barns And Combat Boots
The Wire came across some fascinating facts about the NCTA’s origins while doing research for last week’s story about the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s rebranding to NCTA: The Internet & Television Association.
For example, during the Yi dynasty in Korea, which lasted from 1392 to 1910 (when they say dynasty, they mean dynasty), the official court religion was Confucianism.
For those who may be confused, that was one of the top entries returned from an online search for “origins of NCTA,” and was from the history of Taekwondo from the National Collegiate Taekwondo Association, which may or may not be changing its name to NCTA: The Intercollegiate & Taekwondo Association.
For those who wondered why those dairy barns had been converted into classrooms in the fall of 1968, it was the beginnings of the NCTA — Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture. Dean Weldon Sleight helped come up with the “Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots” program, by the way. Not to be confused with John Malone’s “Cowboy Boots to World Domination” program.
Then there is “NCTA-Ohio State,” which sounds like it should appeal to alumnus Tom Wheeler. The FCC chairman has a hard time not citing his alma mater at every opportunity, and even when no opportunity appears to be presenting itself — although “NCTA” has not been coming as trippingly off the tongue during the current set-top set-to as when Wheeler was president of the association. In this case, the NCTA that is teaming up with “The” Ohio State is the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia.
Then there is the National College Testing Association. If that NCTA testing includes teachings about Asia, we know at least one answer: Confucianism was the official religion of the Yi dynasty.
Isn’t this where we came in?
— John Eggerton
WICT Confab Ends in Gold for Joyner-Kersee
On the field, Olympic track champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee was a hardened competitor who won six medals — three of them gold — in several track and field events over four Olympics from 1984 to 1996.
But Joyner-Kersee showed her softer side during the WICT Leadership Conference opening general session last Monday (Sept. 19). Joyner-Kersee, who spoke compassionately about giving back to her community in East St. Louis, Mo., through her self-named community and technology center, tried to fight back tears after fellow session keynoter David Cohen, Comcast’s senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer, surprised her with the promise of a major technical upgrade to her community center.
Comcast, along with St. Louis-area cable provider Charter Communications, will provide the center with 20 new computers, a 3-D printer and an interactive Promethean Board touch screen. Charter will also provide free WiFi for the entire center, Cohen said.
Joyner-Kersee told The Wire: “What David, Comcast and Charter did was truly a blessing. The access to services that we’ll be able to provide is crucial for low-income families in our community.”
— R. Thomas Umstead