Reelz Goes for Broke


In many ways, Stan Hubbard would be a lot better off if it were 1985. Life was easier then for independent cable networks to get distribution, advertising and viewers.

In that era, Americans still watched just a few channels, and were far more inclined to drop everything for a week to watch a soapy historical miniseries like North and South.

But in 2011, the fledgling ReelzChannel is in just 60 million homes, stuck on upper-tier channels and receives no carriage fees from cable companies, missing out on that platform’s powerful dual-revenue model. Plus, Hubbard is making a huge bet that millions of DVR-addicted Americans will commit eight days to a sweepingly retro miniseries, The Kennedys (which premiered on April 3).

That doing business as a fledgling cable network is tough sledding is not lost on Hubbard. “We are 100 percent advertiser supported. So we are somewhat limited,” he said.

Launched in 2006, ReelzChannel tallied about $15 million in ad revenue last year. Consider that Viacom-backed Logo, launched around the same time, pulled in about $24 million just in carriage revenue in 2010.

Hubbard, who owns TV and radio stations in Minnesota and New Mexico, would like Reelz to be in 100 million homes in five years in order to increase ratings and ad dollars. But that won’t be easy in an increasingly crowded cable landscape still expanding its digital spectrum.

Thus The Kennedys Hail Mary.

The network’s independence proved to be an asset in one regard; it was able to nab the series nine days after it became available. “In a big conglomerate, there are so many crosscurrents you are bound to bump into yourself,” said former Lifetime CEO and Reelz board member Doug McCormick.

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