The Reelz Channel has come to the rescue of the Miss USA pageant, which lost its broadcasters this week, and to East Baton Rouge Parish, which invested public money into the event in the hopes of receiving national and international exposure.
Reelz CEO Stan E. Hubbard told The Advocate he disagrees with inflammatory statements Donald Trump made disparaging Mexican immigrants and doesn’t support him politically. But he said he doesn’t believe the pageant’s contestants and Baton Rouge should be made to suffer for them.
“The city and community of Baton Rouge who have rolled out the red carpet to show themselves to the nation, all of this confusion and controversy is not of their making,” Hubbard said. “The contestants who participated in this and made it their life’s dream … they did not create this problem.”
The Reelz Channel announced Thursday that it will broadcast the Miss USA competition, one day after all of the scheduled performers pulled out of the Baton Rouge-based pageant that had lost its televised home.
Reigning Miss USA Nia Sanchez said Thursday as she visited Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital that she is “so excited” the pageant will air on Reelz and that the buzz surrounding it should make people more willing to tune in.
Though the pageant will be nationally televised again, people in Baton Rouge will have a more difficult time watching it than they would have when NBC and Univision were carrying the pageant. Cox Cable does not carry Reelz, though the company’s CEO said Thursday that he hopes this will persuade Cox to pick up the channel.
The channel is available in Baton Rouge at DISH Network 299, DirecTV 238, AT&T U-verse 799 and AT&T U-verse 1799HD. The pageant will still air as planned at 7 p.m. Central time on Sunday, July 12, at the Baton Rouge River Center.
Hubbard stressed that the decision to pick up the pageant was apolitical.
“I completely disagree with (Trump’s) comments,” Hubbard said, noting that his company is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the market is 46 percent Hispanic.
He sympathized with sponsors and entertainers associated with the pageant who have opted to distance themselves from Trump. But he said he’s hopeful they will reconsider.
“I completely understand why a brand doesn’t want to be associated with the comments Trump has made, but I will tell you this pageant has nothing to do with those comments,” he said. “I hope we can shine a light on this for the right reasons, for what this event is and for the reasons Baton Rouge took this on in the first place.”
He said he does not want the pageant competitors nor the residents of Baton Rouge who are supporting the event to be slighted.
National media outlets have described Hubbard’s family as being famously supportive of Republican candidates and conservative causes.
In 2013, Stanley S. Hubbard, father of the Reelz Channel owner, reportedly wrote a letter to Charles and David Koch, of Koch Industries and the leading conservative donors in the country, saying, “Charles and David, please know that you can count on me, my wife and our family to stand foursquare with your ongoing efforts to preserve our unique American way of life.”
But the younger Hubbard said he is not his father. He said he has no political party affiliation and the decision to pick up the pageant broadcast should not be construed as a political endorsement of Trump.
“I do not have a preferred candidate, but I am not a supporter of Donald Trump for president,” he said.
With fewer than two weeks left before the pageant airs, Hubbard said, it will be a mad dash to get the program running. He noted it’s possible the program could air without advertisers. He said he’s prepared to fill those slots with public service spots to shine light on charitable ventures or to promote other Reelz programs.
While they won’t have the reach that NBC had, Hubbard said they are available in 70 million homes across the country and will prepare to air the program separately in the Spanish language, as well, to make up for the loss of Univision’s partnership.
It will remain unclear until after the pageant whether the Reelz channel’s broadcast is worth the more than $500,000 in incentives that the city and state committed to Miss USA.
City and state leaders said when they were signing off on the money that the investment was justified because of the worldwide exposure the pageant would bring to Baton Rouge for the second year. Some of the contracts with the Miss USA organization noted that the pageant was to be broadcast on NBC.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s spokesman, Jacques Berry, said Thursday that Dardenne will not decide until after the pageant airs whether Miss USA will get $65,000 in incentives from the offices that he oversees. Berry said it will depend on viewership numbers and a market analysis of the exposure that Baton Rouge gets during the pageant.
“At this point, anyone who was gonna step up and carry this would have almost certainly had to have been a network such as Reelz that is independent and doesn’t answer to corporate parents,” Berry said. He added that he is grateful for the exposure.
Dardenne said previously that his office might not pay Miss USA $65,000 in incentive packages if the pageant broadcast does not have a similar reach to what NBC’s would have.
Visit Baton Rouge’s contract also mentioned NBC by name several times, but President and CEO Paul Arrigo said Thursday that he would not speculate on changes to the contract until numbers were available for the impact and reach of Miss USA airing on Reelz.
Part of Visit Baton Rouge’s contract stipulated that they would pay Miss USA $75,000 by July 1. Arrigo said they still have not paid the money to the organization, but he would not comment on why nor would he comment on whether Visit Baton Rouge plans to pay the money.
“I am happy that it appears there will be some national exposure on national media,” Arrigo said.
Lance Porter, associate professor with LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, said Reelz is the real benefactor of the arrangement.
“I’d never heard of Reelz before today,” he said. “It’s better for Reelz than it is for Miss USA because they might have a few more people know who they are and what they’re about.”
He said the reach Reelz has will not compare to an audience with NBC.
“If you think about it, NBC is in every home that has a TV,” he said. “Reelz is in 58 percent of homes with one television. … It kills the casual audience who come across the show by just turning their TV on. You have to seek it out to find it, and only about slightly over half of them will be able to do that.”
Tad O’Dell, another LSU professor who teaches broadcast journalism, said the lower the channel the better the audience. He also said there’s a benefit to being close to channels like ESPN and other channels with high viewership, because there’s a higher chance people will come upon the program by means of channel surfing.
Hubbard disagreed with the assessment that his channel is obscure. Rather, he said, they are independent, which gave them the ability to be nimble and act quickly, where other larger conglomerates could not.
Reelz was spotlighted in 2011 when it came to the rescue of the miniseries “The Kennedys,” after the History Channel dropped it in the wake of criticism that it was historically inaccurate and a smear to the Kennedy family.
The Reelz Channel’s decision to broadcast Miss USA is one of the only positive pieces of news the pageant organization has gotten since owner Donald Trump said in a campaign speech that Mexican immigrants were bringing drugs, crime and rape to the United States.
Since NBC and Univision dropped their pageant broadcasts, all of Miss USA’s musical performers, two co-hosts, multiple judges and others affiliated with the pageant have distanced themselves from Trump’s comments.