Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

REELZ Commissions 200 Originals: What do they want? What is the budget ‘Sweet Spot’?

REELZ commissions around 200 originals each year and acquires another 50+ programs.

The focus is on:

  • Celebrity, particularly from the world of entertainment, and
  • Notoriety, in the True Crime genre.

Unlike most platforms like Netflix or U.S. cable nets, REELZ acquires only U.S. rights, allowing producers to profitably exploit rest-of-world in a popular genre.

I recently chatted with Steve Cheskin, REELZ’ veteran programmer.  Steve was one of Discovery’s earliest employees, and a key player in creating Discovery’s game-changing SHARK WEEK.

Steve pointed me to Saturday Night Fever: The Ultimate Disco Movie. Its an absorbing deep dive into the magic brew of music, dance, stardom and production decision-making that made pre-hipster ’70’s Brooklyn the pop culture center of the universe.

Read more below about REELZ’ programming strategy and budget sweet spot…

REELZ: The Sweet Spots

  • Owned by Hubbard Media Group.
  • Headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Launched in 2006
TaglineReal Lives. Real Stories. Real Celebrities.
Company Messaging“REELZ is a leading independent cable and satellite general entertainment network that is home to factual entertainment, television events, miniseries, movies and series featuring big stories and big stars. Programming ranges from the critically acclaimed and award-winning miniseries The Kennedys to Autopsy: The Last Hours of… , Scandal Made Me Famous, Behind Closed Doors, Geraldo Rivera’s Murder In The Family and much more that connects directly to the world of entertainment. REELZ also provides specific on-air recommendations for movies viewers can watch at home.”
Unscripted FocusDocumentary storytelling.  Celebrity-focused: famous & infamous.  Hollywood-related examples include a true story that motivated a movie, or celebrating a hit movie with the original cast.
Program CategoryCelebrity / Notoriety. True Crime
Target Audience
  • Adults 25-54.
  • Female-skewing.
  • Tends toward higher end of the demo.
Base Demographics60%F / 40%M
Distribution51.4 million U.S. HH (June 2020)
Key Programming ContactsSteve Cheskin, Rob Swartz
Competition“Female-skewing, non-scripted networks is the easy answer, but it really is broadcast, cable nets, streaming, video games.  We know our viewers watch/use all of these.” Steve Cheskin
Average Prime Time
  • .3
  • 100,000+ viewers average primetime, Monday – Sunday (Nielsen)
Programming Pipeline250 hours:

  • 200 original hours
  • About 50-100 acquisitions hours.
Sweet Spot
  • Average budget for overall cost of program: $200,000.
  • Reelz typically contributes 50-60% of the budget
Producer Equity
  • Reelz acquires U.S rights only.
  • Producers can exploit worldwide rights, a promising business proposition in Reelz’ popular genre.
Producers (Select List)Hoff Productions, Potato/ITV, AMS, Buck, Espiritus, Honeybee, Big Media, Muse, Viacom, Treadmill, Pyramid Productions
Content Buckets
  • Bio-docs:
    • Celebrities, especially Entertainment
    • Notorious criminals.
  • Making of… legendary movies, e.g., Saturday Night Fever
  • Access docs to entertainment industry.
Looking for“Projects that have something “special” attached to them.  For example, it could be a celebrity who is participating in a program, or a unique archive, or exclusive interviews.” Steve Cheskin
Not Looking forReality. Game Shows. Scripted.
Recent Coverage
Recently on Air

Key Takeaway

  • The relentless focus on Netflix and the streamers obscures the continuing opportunities to supply traditional channels.
  • The Cab/Sat model still drives the commissioning and acquisition of cumulatively tens of thousands of hours of programs worldwide.


Sweet Spots 2021 will be published soon. Buy Sweet Spots 2020 and you will automatically receive the 2021 update with new strategic insights, contacts, programming trends, budget information, and more.