ReelzChannel Viewers Up Before Kennedys Series Airs
Controversial miniseries The Kennedys doesn't air for another 12 days, but ReelzChannel has already experienced a substantial boost in viewers since buying the U.S. broadcasting rights.
ReelzChannel-based in Albuquerque, New Mexico and owned by Minneapolis-based Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc.-scooped up the multimillion-dollar series in February after it was dropped by the History channel and passed over by numerous cable networks due to concerns about the historical accuracy of the script.
The series doesn't debut until April 3. But since acquiring The Kennedys and promoting it through various paid media outlets, ReelzChannel has nearly doubled its weekly unique viewers-those who spend at least six minutes on the network-from 3 million in January to about 5.5 million two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the amount of time viewers spend watching the channel is up about 35 percent.
“There's a lot of people coming to sample the network,” the channel's CEO, Stan E. Hubbard, said in a Monday afternoon phone interview. “They probably heard about The Kennedys [and want to] check it out, make sure it's on their TV.”
Hubbard has high hopes for the series, for which he reportedly paid about $7 million. He anticipates that the unique viewers will reach between 10 million and 12 million during the month of April when the miniseries airs, and he has poured an estimated $10 million into promoting it in order to achieve that goal.
The marketing campaign for the series involves television spots on about two dozen networks (including the local ABC affiliate), billboards, radio spots on both Hubbard-owned stations and others, and online ads.
ReelzChannel stands to gain-or lose-a lot with The Kennedys, which is hoped to catapult it into the spotlight. The fledgling cable channel, which is 100 percent ad-supported, went on the air in 2006 but still loses about $10 million annually. Because of ReelzChannel's substantial investment in The Kennedys and the marketing of it, Hubbard expects a similar situation this year. But he also hopes to double the network's $15 million annual revenue by the end of 2011. He acknowledges that $30 million is ambitious but also insists that it's “definitely deliverable.”
Another challenge will be to come up with enough original content to keep The Kennedys viewers coming back to ReelzChannel once the miniseries is over.
“Our hope is through that hour, we can get them interested in something else on the network,” Hubbard said, adding that he'll be happy if weekly unique viewers stand at about 6 million after the series concludes.
ReelzChannel is developing lots of programming around the miniseries to try to do just that. Last weekend, it aired a special feature about the Kennedy family's influence on American culture. And right before the first episode, the channel will host what Hubbard likes to call a “pre-game” show, which will feature hosts from some of its other programs. After the week-long series concludes on April 10, ReelzChannel will debut a weekly show at 10 p.m. through which celebrities will be interviewed enjoying different activities.
With less than two weeks before The Kennedys is set to air, the series has yet to secure any major sponsors-and Hubbard said that approximately half of its advertising inventory is sold.
“Sales were tough,” acknowledged Hubbard. “Advertisers were a little bit skittish to be involved with something with this [controversial] material.”
Hubbard Broadcasting, founded in 1923, is a family-owned and family-operated business that's one of the last independent broadcasting companies in the United States.