Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Who’s Hot? Who’s Not! U.S. Factual Channel Audiences, 2Q’12 vs. 2Q’11 / Shark Week Secrets

The non-scripted tide keeps on surging. And surging.

  • But the boats don’t rise equally.
  • Some defy gravity and actually fall!

Which six U.S. Factual channels gained or lost the most prime time viewers year-to-year (%)?











Here are three highlights:

  • H2 rebrands from History International and leaps to the top of the podium (48% gain). (Watch our H2 video discussion and sizzle tape!)
  • Nat Geo Wild does what matters for small nets: it attends to the details and adds subs. Wild earns our Silver medal (38%). Flagship Nat Geo Channel also shows a solid gain (29%).
  • Ovation continues its shift from classical to pop culture and gains 35%, though on a small base.


Our bucket of channels is not apples-to-apples:

  • It includes channels that are dedicated to non-scripted, for example Nat Geo and Discovery.
  • And others like A&E and MTV that include Scripted in the mix.
  • Some channels that schedule Factual are unrated, or were not rated last year.

Our quarterly, high-level snapshot is prepared with the assistance of John Morse, president of research firm Byron Media.

U.S. Factual Channels
Average Quarterly Prime Time Audience
2Q’12 versus 2Q’11

 2Q’122Q’122Q’11  +/-%
H2 (HISTORY INTL)0.32351597648%
NAT GEO WILD0.2120873338%
NAT GEO CHANNEL0.53903028829%
ID: INVEST. DISC.0.75264408620%
ANIMAL PLANET0.65364825411%
DISC FIT & HEALTH0.28880810%
OWN: OPRAH0.324523694%
E! ENTERTAINMENT0.5461500-39-8%
Factual Networks14,10013,3857155%

 Nielsen Media Research

Quantity Not Quality

  • Most ad-supported channels sell media based on their target demos.
  • Networks and managers rate their performance Q-to-Q rather than Y-to-Y.
  • Nevertheless, our measure of the quarterly ‘average prime time’ audience is a useful tool for gauging relative scale of viewing and year-to-year trends.


The largest audience gainers in our sample are (‘000):

  • History (1,799, up 221)
  • Food (915, up 139)
  • VH1 (490, up 88)
  • Nat Geo (390, up 88)
  • And Discovery’s ID continues to rock (526, up 86)

Travel lost 12% of its audience.

  • It’s a tough brand.
  • ‘Travel’ in US is associated with airport hassles versus fun-filled breaks.
  • And Americans don’t enjoy the long vacations and embedded cultural appetite for travel of, say, West Europeans.

The Discovery Channel has become a fixture in the losing category.

  • Discovery dropped nearly 100,000 average prime time viewers – or around 10% – year-to-year.
  • Discovery’s audience is now less than half its former rival History.
  • Two of its most notable recent shows, Mermaids and Gator Boys came from Animal Planet, when the loaners should ideally be moving in the other direction.
  • The flagship’s struggles carry implications for ad sales, and hence the overall financial performance of Discovery Networks and DCI.

The Factual Tide Keeps on Rising and Rising…

  • The broad Unscripted category continues to grow at the expense of Scripted, News, Kids and other categories.
  • The year-to-year increase for our bucket of basic factual channels was a steady 5%.


For scale purposes, here are 2Q’12 prime time averages for a selection of channels that screen reality and docs…

HBO3.3   1,033
IFC0.2       106
LOGO0.1         51
MSNBC0.6       566
USA2.2   2,142
VELOCITY0.2         82



  • In The Atlantic: “The Evolution of Shark Week, Pop-Culture Leviathan” reveals the brilliance behind Discovery’s great stunt Shark Week
  • Don’t miss “The Men in the Sharkskin Suit: Cheskin, Bunting and Hendricks” by eyewitness Tom Porter, writing in his, like, totally cool blog Celebrity Romp.
  • Don’t forget: Larry Adler and his catolog of shark docs. Greg Moyer, the conjurer. Ruth Otte, dream-spinner and team leader. Tom Horton, who repackaged so many acquisitions and blazed the path to original commissions. Mike DuMonceau, with lots of production responsibilities. And my partner, John DiGiacomo who came up with the plan to sell shark-infested VHS’s to cover acquisition costs. That cash flow really mattered because making payroll was then a live issue for Discovery.
  • BTW, Shark Week launched in July 1987.

We’re thinking about…

  • Pawn Stars: Case Study Update
  • How to value the US factual sector based on the post-Hatfield & McCoys transaction at A+E Networks
  • Cosmic Shore: NHK Japan Case Study Update
  • And more…


International Documentary Buyers’ Guide 2012

Which channels worldwide buy docs?

  • How many do they buy?
  • What are they looking for?
  • Who are the key contacts?
  • How do you reach them?
  • If we have the data, what do they pay?

The International Documentary Buyers’ Guide 2012 is an invaluable resource for producers who are working on strategies to pitch ideas or who are selling completed programs to channels.

  • 17 Countries
  • 40 Buyers

Based on original interviews with broadcasters, funders and senior producers conducted for the Hot Docs Forum 2012.

The Guide includes:

  • Executive Personnel
  • Current Strands & Slots
  • Recent Green Lights
  • Channel Profiles
  • Vital Links
  • Takeaways and Analysis

Download now