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Five Questions for Stanley E. Hubbard

Hubbard Broadcasting Corp. was started in 1923 in St. Paul, Minn., by radio entrepreneur Stanley E. Hubbard. Under grandson Stanley E. Hubbard II, the company last year launched a television network for cable and satellite operators about movies, called ReelzChannel. And it is trying to find footing for an arts and culture channel called Ovation. Editor in chief Tom Steinert-Threlkeld spoke with Hubbard over the phone about these networks, since he oversees the initiatives.

MCN: Your company can be traced back to a Twin Cities radio station called WAMD [now KSTP], which stood for 'Where All Minneapolis Dances.' It transmitted live dance music from a local ballroom. Was that somehow a precursor to cable TV? An audio version of narrowcasting?

Stanley Hubbard: Sure, it was a precursor. My grandfather was trying to find a way to provide entertainment and information to people and in 1923, it was a radio station in Minneapolis. As we've gone through time, it's been TV stations and the [direct-broadcast satellite] business and now ReelzChannel and Ovation as cable networks. It was a precursor but just on a different scale.

MCN: Why should your arts and culture channel, Ovation — now in 5.3 million homes, not a big distribution — succeed, while others who have trod the turf, like Bravo and A&E Network, moved into reality programming and scripted dramas?

SH: I don't think that Bravo and A&E didn't succeed. I think that those were networks that were launched in an analog time frame, with far fewer channels, and I think what they saw was a bigger opportunity to be big, general-interest networks and [they] forewent sticking to the category. They left the category of the arts wide open and we think the team that's in place for Ovation is going to be able to own that space.

MCN: Why does a channel about movies make sense, like ReelzChannel, when there are a lot of movie channels out there and you are kind of metadata or information about the movies and not the movies themselves?

SH:It wasn't very many years ago when people were asking the question: Why would a channel about food make sense, when there were a lot of programs out there and segments out there about food? And I think Scripps proved to the industry that if there is a big enough category out there and you go after it, you can build a tremendous business. ReelzChannel makes sense for that reason. On a digital system today, cable or satellite, there are over 4,000 movie titles out there a month to choose from.

The No. 1 way people choose movies to watch on pay-per-view, [video on demand] or on premium channels, is title. So if we can do really fun and interesting and informative programs about movies and not just movies that are in theaters but movies that are available in the home, this week, this month and today, the takeaway is viewers are going to recognize more titles and we absolutely believe that recognizing more titles is going to translate into watching more premium movies and buying more video on demand and pay-per-view.

MCN: How much of the future of channels such as these lies on the Internet, instead of cable systems?

SH: We're committed to the cable and satellite systems and to their viewers. We have at ReelzChannel.com a very robust Web site that is about movies and I think the only Web site that tracks movies through all the windows, right through to pay-per-view, VOD and premium, right down to what channel it's on and what time in your home.

Watching television is how people are going to watch the channel. And that's where you lean back. Digging into more information in a different way is how you lean forward into the computer screen. There's a place for both.

MCN: Can you really make it on ad revenue alone for these channels?

SH: The Hubbards have built businesses over the years in radio and television that have always been about being advertising-supported.

So, yeah, we absolutely believe we really can make it in a market as big as this whole country. And we think we can help the operators sell more movies.