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Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

U.S. Factual Networks Scorecard: Who’s Hot? Who’s Not! 2Q11 versus 2Q10

How are they doing this year?

We continue our quarterly, high-level snapshot of how U.S. Factual channels are gaining or losing prime time viewers year-to-year.

Our report is compiled by John Morse, president of leading audience research firm Byron Media.

Our selection 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 mix docs and reality with scripted shows.
  • Some channels that schedule Factual are unrated, or were not rated last year.

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.
  • Our measure is the quarterly ‘average prime time,’ a very useful tool for measuring relative scale as well as trends.


U.S. Factual Channels

Average Quarterly Prime Time Audience, 2Q11 versus 2Q10

Rating 2Q112Q’112Q’10Change %
NAT GEO WILD0.2873156181%
ID: INVEST. DISC.0.644025518573%
HISTORY INTL0.3159146139%
NAT GEO CHANNEL0.430229752%
ANIMAL PLANET0.548248200%
E! ENTERTAINMENT0.5500510(10)-2%
TRU TV0.8765795(30)-4%
Factual Networks11,32410,3519739%

Nielsen Media Research, 2Q 2011 / 2Q 2010


Largest audience (‘000)

  • History (1,578), A&E (1,081), Discovery (946), HGTV (932) and SYFY (866)
  • SYFY replaces MTV in our Top 5

Growth (%)

  • Top 5: Nat Geo Wild (181%, after gaining a pool of new subs), ID: Investigation Discovery (73%), History (28%), MTV (24%) and Bravo (13%)
  • Audience losers were Discovery (-3%), BET (-4%), TRU TV (-4%), Food (-7%) and Oxygen (-12%)

Oprah’s OWN

  • Discovery has spent upwards of $200 million to launch OWN
  • And OWN has sent out more press releases on its executive structure than a stumbling presidential campaign
  • And what for?
    • OWN’s average audience is a sliver higher than the ‘under-performing’ Discovery Health network it replaced!
    • How much more time will Discovery give Oprah and OWN?

The Factual Bucket: More Growth!

  • The broad Unscripted category continues to register huge growth at the expense of Scripted, News and other categories
  • The year-to-year increase for’s bucket of Basic factual channels was 9% and nearly one million viewers!


  • History’s gain of 349,000 new viewers is a huge achievement for a fully-distributed channel competing in a painfully mature market!
    • History’s growth is led by the hit series Pawn Stars, its spin off American Restoration, and American Pickers.
  • A&E provides a 1-2 punch for A&E Television Networks.
    • This is remarkable!
    • And painful for former market leader Discovery Networks
  • Nat Geo climbs out of the doldrums (+2%).
  • DCI’s flagship Discovery channel returns to the Top 3, but loses viewers and a highly respected GM
  • The amazing ID (440/73%) is closing the gap on Animal Planet (482/0%) and will soon bump it out of Discovery’s ‘Big 5’
    • ID is a Female-targeted all-Crime channel
    • How high can ID climb? Continuing sub growth and maybe one hit like Pawn Stars or Jersey Shore and we will see really big numbers!


That Hockey Stick Curve

Here is the moment at last month’s MDA Producer Workshop in Singapore when I presented my patented ‘Factual Hockey Stick Curve.’ It was captured by globe-trotting photographer Alphonse Falcone.

The chart describes the growth of the documentary and unscripted business since 1981, when I landed in New York.

My first assignment was to cover the peak event in the U.S. doc business calendar: the annual film festival organized by EFLA, the Educational Film Library Association.

Winning an award from EFLA was THE FILTER for selling 16MM prints to U.S. schools, colleges and public libraries, which then comprised the largest market for docs and ‘art’ films.

It’s hard to imagine, but except for a bare handful of producers with access to the networks, the key gate-keepers were politically progressive school and municipal librarians, mainly women, who just loved ‘creative’ docs.

Coming soon: More on the ‘Factual Hockey Stick Curve’ and the never-ending growth of the non-scripted category.