Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

What do Discovery’s ‘Big Four’ Networks Pay for Programming


The ‘Sweet Spot’

Every network is steered by an annual programming budget that establishes or implies a “Sweet Spot” for an hour of original programming.
This benchmark is based on investment strategies, revenues, the competitive situation, contributions from co-producers and partners, and more.
The ‘Sweet Spot’ is the cost that the Director/VP of Development / Programming is comfortable presenting to the final decision-maker, expecting buy-in for an approved idea that meets the channel’s on screen standards.
Channels will pay more (‘High’) for premium, promotable programs, for example to anchor the Sunday night schedule, or to remedy a weak rating during weekday primetime.
The ‘Low’ commission cost could be the bargain rate sought by commissioners while maintaining their on-screen values. Or it could be achieved by favorable production conditions – for example by requiring a small local crew versus working in a harsh and remote location.
High-cost “Signature” or “Showcase” programs anchor a channel’s annual or seasonal promotions. Think of the BBC / Discovery franchise series Planet Earth.

And now for the data.

Discovery’s Sweet Spots


Coming Soon! ‘Sweet Spot’ Report

What Do Channels Pay for Programs?
Our Research Findings for Purchase Soon

Our original research findings about the ‘Sweet Spots’ for 25+/- U.S. channels covers:

  • Network budget benchmarks for original commissions
  • Several levels: Signature, High, ‘Sweet Spot’ and Low
  • We cover ‘the biggies’ and diginets

If the data is available, we include:

  • Acquisition costs
  • Copro contributions
  • Benchmark costs for typical genres

The unique and valuable ‘Sweet Spot’ Report covers Discovery Networks, OWN Oprah Winfrey Network, AETN Networks including History, truTV, MTV, Nat Geo and many more.

How to Purchase the ‘Sweet Spot’ Data
Our 2010 archive, INCLUDING NEW RESEARCH FINDINGS, will soon be available for electronic purchase from  We’re finalizing the purchase details now.

If you need ‘Sweet Spot’ data urgently, please email Peter Hamilton. ‘Sweet Spot’ Report Coming Soon!


 What the Sources Say

  • The majority of Discovery Networks’ projects are work-for-hire commissions. There are fewer acquisitions and co-productions.
  • For co-productions, the benchmarks represent the net cost to Discovery rather than the total project cost. The benchmarks do not include contributions by international partners, sponsors, ancillary marketers and others.
  • The Discovery Channel premieres about 1,000 hours each year, spending more than $200 million. Less than half of the new hours are for Daytime.
  • The Discovery Channel commissions fewer than 20 projects a year at the “High” or $600K level.
  • The ‘Showcase’ blockbusters are contributed under the BBC / Discovery joint venture.
  • TLC enjoys a comparable pipeline, though with a more diverse schedule than The Discovery Channel’s. For example, TLC features Lifestyle programs that offer cost efficiencies due to their multi-episode scale and highly formatted character. They are balanced by more costly docu-soap formats.
  • The Animal Planet schedule ranges from “pet teaching” formats at the low cost level to a handful of premium specials and limited series. The AP pipeline is narrower than Discovery’s, though AP plans to spend around $100 million on commissions this year.
  • Discovery Health will be relaunched in January 2011 as the lifestyle channel, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. Watch this blog for information about OWN’s emerging economics.
  • Most Discovery commissions are directed to established, successful producers. (Watch out for my forthcoming blog: “Top Ten Producers: Share of Primetime Commissions for U.S. Channels.”)

Coming Sweet Spots
Discovery Digi-nets, Scripps Networks, AETN, Nat Geo Channels, Smithsonian Channel, Canadian Channels, BBC, France, Germany, PBS, Arte, and many more.

For our mission and archive, go to, your new, free weekly guide to the ever-changing business of factual television.


  1. Feedback
    February 18, 2010

    Hi Peter, Many thanks for including me in your mailing list. Very useful data on Discovery; the ‘sweet spot’ is something we as independent producers must always take into account as we temper our creative ambitions. Looking forward to your forthcoming ‘intelligence’ blogs. (London)

    Congratulations Peter! What an achievement. I am sure you will receive a lot of feedback and gratitude from producers, and your blog will turn into a much valued and anticipated tool in the industry. (S.F.)

    Peter strikes again! This is a very interesting and useful piece. Much closer to the truth than I think Discovery will be comfortable with. (Washington)
    It was both very informative and manageable to read as an executive overview. Keep them coming! (L.A.)

    Great information. I can’t believe no one has done this before. Thanks, (Amsterdam)

    Hi Peter, I found your most recent blog entry to be spot on, and look forward to subsequent information on the Networks you listed. (New York)

  2. Hi Peter,
    Thank you so much for this blog. I will check in regularly to it. I look forward to meeting you in person if you are attending MIPTV. My company is Vision Films. We are worldwide Sales Agents, and I personally focus on licensing programming from independent producers to the Domestic Video and Television marketplace. Back in the early 90’s I created the series Movie Magic that became one of Discovery’s long running series. Most recently I am licensing a lot of Music related biographies to Fuse, VH1, Ovation and BET. I don’t do much original commissioned programming any more, I deal mostly with the acquisitions departments, where the license fees range anywhere between $20K and $100K an hour.
    Lise Romanoff (Los Angeles)

  3. A very useful blog that adds to the other sources we use to ascertain prices. Our company, Canamedia is both a distributor and Canadian producer of factual programs and over the past 33 years we have been commissioned by everyone from CBSTV to A&E to PBS to BBC and Channel 4. However we also work as an executive Producer too, helping our client producers get commissons for their ideas. If they are too small then we can co-produce with them too.
    We’d be happy to meet with you at MIPTV or Hot Docs and to share industry information with you .
    Les Harris

  4. You’re providing a very valuable service. Heard you speak at Realscreen in 2009.

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