StoryScout 2024

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Realscreen Summit 2016: A Takeaway – The Financial Model The Channels Are Leaving Behind

There was much talk at this year’s excellent Realscreen Summit about how networks must rebuild their brands to succeed in the emerging pay-for-content model of the online video ecosystem.

The evolution from cable channel to video brand is so complex and risky that whole server farms are dedicated to storing its analysis.

My focus in this post is on what’s at stake:

  • The leading U.S. cable channels that schedule docs and unscripted content enjoy huge footprints, as you can read below.
  • They earn a sizeable revenue stream for their services.
  • And because of the long-term nature of typical cable / satellite affiliate contracts, those earnings aren’t going to drop off a cliff.
  • Although weaker channels and brands are finding that cable operators are more willing to cut them loose.
  • Plus: The channels enjoy a dual revenue stream. Advertising sales add to the bounty.

There is a danger that channel execs will focus on brand-building via costly celebrity-led and even celebrity-directed documentary content at the expense of profitable, day-to-day unscripted programming.

  • It can’t be all about the tent poles.
  • Someone’s got to focus on the tent!



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Following is a table from Nielsen that captures the subscriber base of a selection of U.S. channels.

  • The Monthly Sub Fee is an estimate from SNL Kagan for 2013.
  • You can do the math on the annual revenues.
  • I included ESPN as the Sub Fee leader, as well as the sub base of HBO and Showtime.
  • BTW, there are 116.4 Mn U.S. homes, and 99.6 Mn multichannel homes, down from 104.1 Mn year-to-year.

U.S. Networks Selection
Distrbution Jan ’15 vs Jan ’16
Esimated Monthly Sub Fees

Jan ’15Jan ’16(000)%Sub Fee
WEATHER97,32888,084-9,244-9.5%$       0.13
SCIENCE75,60172,191-3,410-4.5%$       0.07
AM. HEROES60,01457,803-2,211-3.7%$       0.07
ESPN94,53091,405-3,125-3.3%$       5.54
TRAVEL91,54088,621-2,919-3.2%$       0.13
MTV93,25790,607-2,650-2.8%$       0.44
ANIMAL PLANET94,28091,603-2,677-2.8%$       0.11
SPIKE93,49190,907-2,584-2.8%$       0.32
OWN81,60079,375-2,225-2.7%$       0.18
MSNBC94,64592,076-2,569-2.7%$       0.23
BRAVO92,31089,824-2,486-2.7%$       0.24
TLC95,11092,549-2,561-2.7%$       0.20
VH192,66990,200-2,469-2.7%$       0.21
CNBC93,66091,181-2,479-2.6%$       0.34
A&E96,04993,641-2,408-2.5%$       0.29
HGTV95,69793,429-2,268-2.4%$       0.16
FYI70,73169,058-1,673-2.4%$       0.11
FOX NEWS94,70892,487-2,221-2.3%$       0.94
BET88,13186,126-2,005-2.3%$       0.21
LIFETIME95,99893,842-2,156-2.2%$       0.32
CNN96,30994,147-2,162-2.2%$       0.59
DISCOVERY96,59694,456-2,140-2.2%$       0.40
HISTORY96,14794,018-2,129-2.2%$       0.26
CNN / HLN97,19495,168-2,026-2.1%$       0.18
FOOD97,02795,041-1,986-2.0%$       0.24
E!94,35192,452-1,899-2.0%$       0.13
BBC-AMERICA78,41376,867-1,546-2.0%$       0.07
DESTINATION56,93155,935-996-1.7%$       0.07
ID86,00485,062-942-1.1%$       0.09
OXYGEN77,69077,119-571-0.7%$       0.14
TRU TV89,54989,593440.0%$       0.15
NAT GEO WILD57,56957,634650.1%$       0.12
DISC. LIFE46,47846,6091310.3%$       0.07
SMITHSONIAN33,30234,0667642.3%$       0.11
NAT GEO CH85,39887,7592,3612.8%$       0.24
COOKING61,95964,8882,9294.7%$       0.08
DIY NETWORK58,40761,1952,7884.8%$       0.10
VELOCITY61,37266,2364,8647.9%$       0.14



My AIDC Panels

  • I’m excited about seeing many of my readers in Melbourne, my home town.
  • Both panels are expert-packed!
  • The AIDC team is doing a great job.
  • Please make a point of saying hello!

What Video On Demand Means for Docs
Monday 29 February

  • Rebecca Heap, Head of Strategy and Digital, iView / ABC
  • Roger Jackson, Co-founder, Kinonation
  • Sharon Ramsay-Luck, Head of Sales & Business Development, ABC Commercial
  • Moderator: Peter Hamilton

Sunday 28 February

  • Jeni McMahon, Screen Victoria
  • Roy Ackerman, Pulse Films
  • Leanne Pooley, Filmmaker
  • Penny Robins, Producer
  • Maya Newell, Producer/Filmmaker
  • Phil Craig, AIDC Board
  • Moderator: Peter Hamilton

My introductory presentation will cover trends across the documentary / unscripted sector. Don’t miss it.