Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Who’s Hot? Who’s Not!! U.S. Factual Channel Viewing, 4Q’12 versus 4Q’11. Takeaway: ‘Discovery Looks Snappy!’

Which U.S. Factual channels are gaining or losing prime time viewers year-to-year?

Here is the big highlight: Discovery Networks is back!!

  • Discovery’s Crime-targeted ID channel is up 114,000 (25%) and takes the #1 spot on our list of factual channels that gained viewers.
  • ID continues to impress with its crystal-clear branding and a schedule filled with programs that convey the feeling that they just can’t wait to be watched by ID’s female-skewed audience.
  • The flagship Discovery Channel gained 106,000 viewers (11%).
  • OWN, Oprah’s recently drowning channel, gained 106,000 viewers, a 57% jump!
  • Science (26%) and male niche channel Velocity (38%) also impressed.
  • So did Animal Planet (11%).

Outside Discovery



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

  • It includes channels that rarely stray out of non-scripted, for example Nat Geo and Discovery.
  • And others like A&E and MTV that include Scripted in the mix.

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

Quantity Not Quality

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


U.S. Factual Channels
$Average Quarterly Primetime Audience, 4Q’12 versus 4Q’11
( Viewers ‘000)

Rating 4Q’14Q’124Q’11Change%
OWN0.4         292186         10657%
OVATION0.1           5334           1956%
H20.4        257166           9155%
VELOCITY0.2           9166           2538%
BIO0.3         212160           5233%
LOGO0.1           5140           1128%
NAT GEO CHANNEL0.5         428340           8826%
SCIENCE0.3         234186           4826%
ID0.7         562448         11425%
NAT GEO WILD0.2         138123           1512%
ANIMAL PLANET0.5         462415           4711%
DISCOVERY1.1      1,060954         10611%
TLC0.9         915824           9111%
TRAVEL0.4         352322           309%
WE0.3        230213           178%
MILITARY0.3         153142           118%
HISTORY1.3     1,3241,237           877%
DIY0.2         10397             66%
DISC FIT & HEALTH0.2           8784             34%
STYLE0.2         158153             53%
LIFETIME1.0         968961             71%
HGTV0.9         893891             20%
A&E1.2     1,1771,178          (1)0%
OXYGEN0.4        305317         (12)-4%
BRAVO0.8        783822         (39)-5%
VH10.4         421445         (24)-5%
BET0.6         565601         (36)-6%
TRU TV0.7         689733         (44)-6%
SPIKE0.6        587635         (48)-8%
MTV0.7        657761      (104)-14%
SYFY0.8         826964       (138)-14%
FOOD0.8        778925      (147)-16%
WEATHER0.2         217268         (51)-19%
E!0.4         359558       (199)-36%
CURRENT0.1           3456         (22)-39%
Factual Networks   16,421  16,305         1161%

Source: Nielsen Media Research



The channels in our sample with the largest audiences  (‘000):

  • History (1,324), A&E (1,177), Discovery (1,060), Lifetime (968) and TLC (915).
  • SyFy, MTV and HGTV dropped out of our Top 5.

Growth (%)

  • Top 5: OWN (57%), Ovation (56%), H2 (55%), Velocity (38%) and Bio (33%).
  • Ovation gained viewers (56%) but proving the rule that no good deed goes unpunished, the niche ‘Arts’ channel lost carriage on TimeWarner Cable systems and is said to be looking for a buyer.
  • Audience losers were: Al Gore’s hapless Current channel prior to its acquisition by Al Jazeera Americas (-39%), E! (199,000 viewers and -36%) and Weather (-19%).
  • Food was another big loser (-16%)



The Factual Tide Keeps Rising – Barely!

  • The broad Unscripted category continues to grow at the expense of Scripted, News and other categories.
  • But only just: The year-to-year increase for’s bucket of basic factual channels was 1%.


  • A key trend for factual channels is that rather than cannibalize each other in a mature market, they are targeting the audiences for scripted entertainments on broadcast and cable/satellite channels by selectively developing dramatic content of their own.
  • At the Real Screen and Impact conferences, History presented promos for their new scripted series (Vikings and The Bible).
  • Meanwhile Discovery showed a compelling promo for a BBC-partnered docu-drama about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986. William Hurt co-stars.
  • We will cover the shift to Scripted in detail after the AIDC Conference.


Speaking Engagements

Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC)
Adelaide, February 25-27

Grand Formats: IMAX & 3D
Peter Hamilton (IMAX)
Torsten Hoffmann (3D) 3D Content Hub
Tuesday February 26, 10:30-11:30 AM

What’s Next? Trends & Drivers in Factual Entertainment
Bernhard Sonnleitner, English Format Research, ProSieben Sat1
Ruth Wrigley, Head of Factual, All3Media
Anita Brown, Commissioning Editor Factual Entertainment, ABC
Patty Geneste, CEO, Absolutely Independent
Lisa Fitzpatrick, Head of Development & Production, Network Ten
Moderator: Peter Hamilton
Wednesday February 27, 2:00-3:00 PM

Workshop: How to Manage the Commissioning & Co-production Processes (wt)
Steve Burns & Peter Hamilton
Monday February 25, 10:00-11:30 AM