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Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Who’s Hot? Who’s Not! 4Q 2013 Snapshot of US Nonfiction Networks

The tide of Unscripted US networks keeps on rising – up 1% for our bucket 0f factual channels year-to-year.

A key Takeaway is “There’s a hole in our bucket!”


Because many formerly niche factual channels are either:

  • Commissioning signature scripted specials (e.g. Nat Geo / Killing Lincoln) and series (e.g. Discovery / Klondike).
  • Or shifting to a general entertainment format with a heavy load of scripted in the mix (e.g. MTV).

We’ll explore this trend in our next post on Realscreen.

Audience Gains&Losses 4Q13

Here is the data and our topline impressions on the Factual channels that are gaining or losing ‘average prime time viewers.’

U.S. Factual Channels
Average Quarterly Prime Time Audience
4Q’13 versus 4Q’12
Rating 4Q’134Q’134Q’12Change%
ANIMAL PLANET0.5497462358%
HISTORY **1.3 1,3241,3240%
STYLE / ESQUIRE **0.2 1581580%
NAT GEO WILD0.2134138(4)-3%
NAT GEO CHANNEL0.5393428(35)-8%
DISC FIT & HEALTH0.27987(8)-9%
TRU TV0.6513689(176)-26%
BIO (rebrand ‘FYI’)0.2156212(56)-26%
Factual Networks16,30916,1571521%


Note: History and Style/Esquire didn’t show up in our ratings data for 4Q13, so we repeated the 4Q12 data in the table to indicate the scale of their audience.


Our selection includes

  • Channels that are dedicated to non-scripted, for example Nat Geo Wild.
  • Others like A&E and MTV that include a heavy load of Scripted in the mix.

Some important channels like Smithsonian that schedule Factual are unrated, or were not Nielsen rated last year.

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

Quantity Not Quality

  • Most ad-supported channels sell media based on their target demos.
  • And networks 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 useful tool for gauging relative scale of viewing and year-to-year trends.

What Caught My Eye?

  • The digital channels tend to show the largest % audience gains. They are expanding distribution, which may flow through to their ratings.
  • Discovery’s Crime-themed ID channel is back among the solid winners after a soft performance during the previous quarter.
  • How ironic that TruTV, formerly CourtTV, is a Big 3 loser after handing over its Crime niche to Discovery.
  • H2 continue to move up after the History International rebrand!
  • A&E is flat, revealing its dependence on the massive audience for ‘Duck Dynasty.’ A+E Networks has had to live with the fallout after the Duck patriarch somehow slipped off his leash and shared his outrageous racial and homophobic views.


Here are the 4Q13 average prime time audiences for some other channels that commission and schedule docs:

  • HBO: 846,000
  • Showtime: 412,000
  • ESPN: 2,351,000
  • CNN: 390,000
  • MSNBC: 556,000


  • Dana Bramble is a recent graduate from American U.
  • She has a passion for the business of television programming, deep expertise for her years, and a writing style that is a great match for DocTV.


WE tv:

  • Hits like Braxton Family Values and the spin-off Tamar and Vince scored hugely in 4Q13 for the network, as both shows are picking up momentum year over year.
  • WE has a good sense of its brand and its audience, able to find a niche in the R&B space (adding SWV Reunited to their roster in January), while also rehashing classic “shop talk” formats (LA Hair, House of Curves) and even wedding shows (without stepping on the toes of TLC), all while staying modern and relevant.
  • Not unlike OWN, WE’s biggest hits feature independent, intelligent, outspoken, talented, and business savvy African-American women.
  • WE became the number one women’s network on Friday nights in 4Q13, successfully separating itself from Lifetime and Oxygen in the female-skewing space.


  • On screen and online, VH1 is dominating the key demos.
  • Monday nights were huge in 2013, hitting their stride with unscripted strongholds like Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta, T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle and newer hits like Black Ink Crew.
  • A stand-out for 4Q13 was the biopic CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, which is the network’s highest rated original movie ever, it’s highest rated program in over five years, and also the #1 cable original movie of 2013 for Adults and Women 18-49.


  • Storied hits like Chasing Classic Cars and Overhaulin’ along with the newly popular Graveyard Carz have made Velocity the fastest growing network among Men 18-49.
  • Despite competition from the newly baptized Esquire Network, Velocity’s “upscale” male demo keeps coming back for more.
  • Revamped programming blocks and updated formats have kept Velocity’s momentum up, carrying the network into its most watched January ever.



  • Not really a surprise here. Old, worn out formats are not keeping viewers interested.
  • Even breakout hit and network staple Hardcore Pawn has fallen hard in the ratings.
  • Impractical Jokers seems to have a loyal following
  • But aside from that, TruTV should seriously consider a rebrand, or at least an overhaul of its stale programming.


  • Bio is being rebranded in 2014 as FYI.
  • It makes sense for A+E Networks to create another female skewing network, since its offerings (History, H2, Crime & Investigation, Military History) have become a little testosterone heavy.


  • Still searching for the next Jersey Shore.
  • MTV’s unscripted offerings are uninspired as the network slowly but surely shifts to scripted.
  • Scrubbing In, Big Tips Texas, and Wait Till Next Year did not create the buzz and fanatical followings that the network hoped and the Teen Mom franchise is wearing thin, as evidenced by the cancellation of Teen Mom 3.
  • The network’s more low brow unscripted (Ridiculousness, Jerks with Cameras, Money from Strangers) are good placeholders, but MTV has been searching for a new hit since 2010 (which they may have had in Buckwild until the unfortunate and sudden death of star, Shain Gandy.)


Speaking Engagements

Asian Side of the Doc
Chengdu, China, March 18-21, 2014
Panel: Crowd-funding Platforms in Asia
Panel: 3D / IMAX/ BIG SCREENS for Docs

Cannes, April 5-6, 2014
Panel: How to Get the Funds: Co-pro’s and Foundations
Interview: Louis Vaudeville, CC&C Paris: The Apocalypse Franchise

AND, don’t miss Hot Docs in the Big TO.
April 24 – May 4, 2014

BTW, We just began to prepare with the Hot Docs team our hot-selling annual International Documentary Program Buyers’ Guide

Women in Film Summit
Pittsburgh PA, May 16-18
‘Documentary & Unscripted Networks Worldwide: What Do They Want?
What Do They Pay? What’s the Deal?’
Watch out for details

NEW!…………………….SWEET SPOTS 2014………………………….NEW!
Production Cost Benchmarks for U.S. Factual Networks

  • What do 30 channels pay for programs?
  • For docs? And reality?
  • Is our commissioning team paying more or less than the competition?
  • Do preferred producers earn a premium?
  • Does my pitch fall in the budget sweet spot for my target network?

We interviewed dozens of executives and producers to create a unique source of proprietary information about network budgets for commissions and copro’s.

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