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.
As the Miss USA contestants continued their activities on Thursday in Baton Rouge, Reelz CEO Stan E. Hubbard told The Advocate he disagrees with the inflammatory statements Donald Trump made disparaging Mexican immigrants and doesn’t support him politically. But he said the pageant’s contestants and Baton Rouge should not suffer for those remarks.
Despite talk of local and state officials renegotiating their contracts with Miss USA, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Mayor-President Kip Holden and Visit Baton Rouge President and CEO Paul Arrigo had nothing but welcoming words for the Miss USA contestants and officials during a Thursday evening reception at the Old State Capitol. In turn, Miss Universe and Miss USA President Paula Shugart showered Baton Rouge with thanks and compliments, saying that as controversy continued to rock the pageant on Wednesday, “all we said … was thank God we are in Baton Rouge.”
Hubbard said the Reelz Channel also recognized the investment that Baton Rouge made in Miss USA.
“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.”
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 event. Cox Cable does not carry Reelz, though the company’s CEO said Thursday he hopes this will persuade Cox to pick up the channel.
The channel is available in Baton Rouge at DISH Network 299, DirectTV 238, AT&T U-verse 799 and AT&T U-verse 1799HD. Miss USA officials have not announced yet whether the pageant will still stream live on their website, as Shugart previously said would happen if no networks picked up the event.
Holden also broke his silence about the Miss USA pageant on Thursday. The mayor-president said he’s thrilled the pageant will air on Reelz, and he insisted it will have the same impact and reach as it would have on NBC.
“We could easily look for an excuse to say this isn’t gonna be the same, but I have no doubt in my mind that it will be the same,” Holden said.
While there have been mentions of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office and Visit Baton Rouge possibly not paying Miss USA the full amount of money committed to lure back the pageant, Holden said Baton Rouge will not renegotiate anything with Miss USA. The city put up the largest sum of money — $280,000 — of the $545,000 total incentive package.
The city’s contract was not tied to a broadcast of the pageant.
Asked if it should have been, the mayor said, “As long as people here are happy, I’m not going to speculate on what should be in a contract.” He said those decisions are for the lawyers.
Holden chided “the few skeptics” for questioning whether Baton Rouge made a wise investment in enticing back Miss USA.
“The skeptics, they’re gonna be very surprised when they see how this turns out,” he said.
Holden said his office has received few complaints about the Miss USA controversy.
Hubbard, the Reelz CEO, stressed that the decision for Reelz to pick up the pageant was apolitical.
“I completely disagree with (Trump’s) comments,” Hubbard said, noting 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 hopes 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,” Hubbard 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.”
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, and 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 Reelz won’t have the reach that NBC had, Hubbard said the channel is available in 70 million homes across the country and will prepare to air the program separately in Spanish as well, to make up for the loss of Univision’s partnership.
Though the mayor said the city will not change its contract with Miss USA, it will remain unclear until after the pageant whether the Reelz Channel’s broadcast is worth the incentives Dardenne and Arrigo oversee.
The lieutenant governor’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 he oversees. Berry said it will depend on viewership numbers and a market analysis of the exposure 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 his office might not pay Miss USA if the pageant broadcast does not have a similar reach to what it would have had on NBC.
Visit Baton Rouge’s contract also mentions NBC by name several times, but Arrigo said Thursday he will not speculate on changes to the contract until numbers are available for the impact and reach of Miss USA airing on Reelz.
Part of Visit Baton Rouge’s contract stipulates 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, 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 that people will come upon the program by channel surfing.
Hubbard disagreed with the assessment that his channel is obscure. 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 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 over the past two weeks. Many people and organizations have cut ties with Miss USA owner Donald Trump since he said in a campaign speech that Mexico does not send its best people to the United States and those who enter the country illegally bring in drugs and crime.
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.
Reigning Miss USA Nia Sanchez said as she visited Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital she is “so excited” the pageant will air on Reelz and the buzz surrounding it should make people more willing to tune in.
The pageant will still air as planned at 7 p.m. Central time on Sunday, July 12, from the Baton Rouge River Center.