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Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Who’s Hot? ID’s ‘Pulp Faction’ and Other Unscripted US Network Winners, 1Q 2014 vs 1Q 2013

The tide of Unscripted US networks keeps on rising:

But the boats rise and fall unevenly:

  • Following is our snapshot of year-to-year changes in viewing of unscripted channels.
  • First: The Top 12 Winners in our sample (%)



Our selection includes

  • Channels that are dedicated to non-scripted, for example Nat Geo Wild (up 16%).
  • Others like MTV (up 2%) include a significant offer of Scripted in their mix.

Quantity Not Quality

  • Advertiser-supported channels sell media based on their target demos.
  • And networks rate their performance quarter-to-quarter rather than year-to-year.
  • Nevertheless, our measure of the quarterly average prime time adult audience is a useful tool for gauging the relative scale of viewing and year-to-year trends.


A Selection of U.S. Factual Channels
Average Quarterly Prime Time Audience
1Q 2014 vs 1Q 2013
1Q ’141Q ’13+/-
RatingAA (000)AA (000)(000)
ID0.9           772           59817429%
TLC1.0           954           79116321%
OWN0.5           433           28514852%
SPIKE0.8           755           62612921%
WETV0.4           359           24411547%
VH10.6           529           4309923%
DISCOVERY1.1        1,093        1,014798%
CMT0.3           301           2366528%
BRAVO1.0           939           875647%
H20.5           352           3064615%
BET0.7           630           590407%
VELOCITY0.2           135              973839%
DIY0.3           161           1283326%
IFC0.2           151           1213025%
NAT GEO WILD0.4           200           1732716%
CNBC0.2           205           1802514%
E!0.5           482           464184%
BBC America0.2           189           176137%
MTV0.8           730           717132%
FIT & HEALTH0.2           100             881214%
OVATION0.1             56             461022%
TRAVEL0.4           396           386103%
WEATHER0.2           200           19553%

Source:  Nielsen Media Research


ID Pickpockets Crime

Discovery’s ID channel is again on fire (up 29%) by super-serving the audience for Crime.

  • I worked at CBS when Murder She Wrote was the #1 hit on US network television. So it’s been amazing to see ID dominate the unscripted Crime genre without a serious challenge.
  • True Crime appeals to Women, but doesn’t send men out to the toolshed.
  • Our measure is of prime time. ID also made big gains during Daytime as Female viewers looked for an alternative to Soaps.

ID works the Titles Process harder than any other network:

  • ID’s titles, like Wives With Knives, are hands down the Best in Show.
  • In the competitive free-for-all of the EPG universe, as in book publishing, the title is as important as the content.

Discovery Rising?

Of my Top 12 list of networks measured by audience gains (‘000), #1-3 are in the Discovery camp.

  • They are ID, TLC and OWN.
  • TLC is up (21%), perhaps by pulling back from its most extreme family characters.
  • Discovery is #7 on my list, and is making solid gains, despite the lack of a big hit.
  • Velocity is up (39%) as is Fit & Health (14%), though on tiny audiences.
  • Velocity super-serves the car lover niche with vehicle beauty shows, auto makeovers and the like. But no auto sports.

The Top 12 (‘000)

Here are the Top 12 winners in our sample (‘000).



Where’s that Buzzy Thing?

  • The buzz is drifting away from network series towards online video and social media.
  • This is particularly so for younger viewers who set the trends in the popular culture.
  • It’s just getting harder and harder for a hit series, much less a channel, to break through the clutter of networks, platforms and shows.
  • It seems like another era when a single series, Queer Eye, transformed Bravo from an Arts channel into a pop culture powerhouse.

Super-serving Niches!

  • A related Takeaway is that the strategic advantage is flowing away from all those barely distinguishable, hit-driven channels.
  • The winners are networks like ID and Velocity that are clearly branded and that methodically super-serve their niche audiences.
  • More on this in future posts.

Titles Matter!

  • ID proves that show titles matter more than ever!

More Reading

  • Don’t miss Dana Bramble’s analysis of what’s driving OWN, WEtv and other channels in her excellent coverage of 4Q 2013.
  • Congrats to Dana who graduated this weekend from American U.
  • Featured Image: From Sarah Weinman’s Domestic Suspense website. Highly recommended!
  • And don’t miss historian Madeleine Hamilton’s Our Girls: Aussie Pinups of the 40’s and 50’s
  • Here’s my super-talented niece at her book launch in Melbourne:



The Rise & Rise Leftfield Entertainment

From a $20,000 Stake t0 a $450 Million Valuation


Pawn Stars was the breakout hit for Leftfield Pictures:

  • In 2007, Leftfield produced 1 television hour.
  • In 2013: more than 336!
  • Pawn Stars ranked #1 in 2012 among all U.S. cable non-fiction series.
  • Pawn Stars is being launched by A+E Networks in the UK and Australia.

Our interview-based Case Study analyzes the ‘secret sauce’ behind Leftfield’s trajectory from a single hit producer to its sale to ITV Studios at a valuation of $450 million.

(45 pages / charts / links to sizzle tapes)

  • Introduction
  • Before Leftfield: Gaining Production Experience
  • Pawn Stars: Concept, Talent, Sizzle Tape, Pitch, Green Light, HIT!
  • After Pawn Stars: Corporate Structure, Renewals, Pitches, more Green Lights. What Next?
  • Leftfield Pictures 2007-2013. Snapshot: Episodes, Hours, Networks
  • Leftfield goes International
  • The acquisitions of Sirens Media creates Leftfield Entertainment
  • Leftfield Puts Casting Under a Microscope
  • Pawn Stars, The Inside Story: How to Create & Sustain a Hit Reality Series (Panel Videos)
  • Ten Negotiation Secrets of the Pawn Stars
  • Attachments and Links (includes a link to the Pawn Stars sizzle tape)

Order here and download now: $49:95