Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

History’s ‘Hatfields’ Blasts A+E Several Laps Past Discovery Networks!

That loud sound that I heard during my rounds of Washington DC last week was the deep groan that rose from Discovery’s Silver Spring HQ.

What happened?

History’s 3-part scripted, miniseries Hatfields and McCoys earned audiences unimagined for an ad-supported cable channel:

  • The New York Times called it a “spectacular success” with a “monster audience” that hit 14.3 million viewers in the finale.
  • That # includes 6.3 million Adults 25-54 — the key demo that History sells to its advertisers.

Game Over?

  • Discovery’s neck-to-neck competition with A+E Networks dates back to the ‘Eighties.
  • But now it’s over!
  • A+E’s History channel won the silverware and has moved up into a new league.

Several data points help measure the scale of History’s achievement last week:

  • History’s average prime time viewing audience in 1Q 2012 was 1.6 million versus the Hatfields’ peak of 14.3 million!
  • The top scripted programs on cable in 2011 (Adults 25-54) were:
  • Walking Dead (AMC, 3.8 million)
  • Falling Skies (TNT, 2.5 million)
  • Sons of Anarchy (FX, 2.5 million)

History is a non-scripted channel:

  • Pawn Stars was History’s top reality series in 2011, averaging 3 million A25-54.
  • Hatfields is scripted, showing that History’s programming team can hit towering aces with either arm.

Pulling Away

A+E Networks drew away from Discovery Networks in 2011:

  • History’s average primetime audience was nearly 50% higher than Discovery’s
  • History accounted for 2 of Cable’s Top 10 programs (A25-54) in 2011.
  • They were Pawn Stars (#3) and American Pickers (#6). A&E’s Storage Wars was #7.
  • Discovery’s unsinkable Deadliest Catch was #8 and Gold Rush Alaska #10.
  • For the year, History gained 14% in Adults 25-45. A&E gained 5%, while Discovery began its turnaround with a 1% gain, and TLC lost 6%.

Hatfields both cements and expands on these gains. The gap is likely to take years and years to reverse.

A+E’s Success Factors?

Coming to mind are:

  • A+E’s multi-network lineup of hits provides cross-promotion firepower that Discovery Networks simply can’t match.
  • A+E has enjoyed a more stable management team than Discovery Networks.
  • The strongest pitches are coming first to A+E. To counter, Discovery may shift from its work-for-hire model and share backend with preferred producers.
  • Discovery’s brand and morale has been undermined by the Oprah Winfrey Network debacle.
  • OWN has absorbed nearly a half billion in losses that would have helped mightily to bolster Discovery Channel’s turnaround, with funding to spare for fully-distributed sister nets like TLC as well as the up-and-coming digi-nets Science, ID and Velocity.

Discovery’s Consolation Prize

Beginning with the launch of Discovery Europe, for which I developed the business plan, Discovery established a far-reaching international operation:

  • International is on the way to contributing half of parent DCI’s revenues.
  • No other global initiative by a US channels group comes close.
  • While Discovery’s visionary board and management were launching channels in territory after territory, A+E International was hamstrung by a divided and US-focused board, and has been working smart to catch up ever since.
  • If you accept that the US is losing its grip on the world economy, maybe Hatfields is just one set point – although a very important one – in the much bigger global rivalry between A+E Networks and DCI??
Photo: Corridor at MIPTV


Speaking Engagements

Sunnyside of the Doc
La Rochelle (June 26-29).

3D / Giant Screen panel:

  • Is there a new model built on (1) new digital screens that are giant- but sub IMAX- size, plus (2) premium commissions by 3D and documentary channels?
  • Who are the players?
  • Are those budgets really $10+ million?

China’s huge documentary market:

  • 64 million average prime time audience for CCTV-9!
  • Where is China’s doc sector heading?
  • What do they pay?
  • Is there an opportunity for Westerners?

Culver City, Los Angeles (September 9-12).

Come to my one-of-a-kind workshop on the basics of the business:

  • What do US factual channels want?
  • How do they make decisions?
  • How much do they pay?
  • Who gets the work?
  • Why? (September 9, PM)