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Reelz scores a win airing Miss USA pageant, despite small audience

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Depending on your point of view, Twin Cities-based ReelzChannel either blew it or scored a big victory by airing the Miss USA pageant Saturday night.

Viewership numbers released Tuesday show the number of people who watched the pageant on the cable TV channel was way down compared to last year's pageant. But the program also brought in one of the largest audiences that Reelz has ever seen for a single show.

Reelz, an entertainment TV network owned by St. Paul-based Hubbard Broadcasting (whose portfolio includes news station KSTP), obtained the rights to televise the pageant less than two weeks ago after NBC dropped the program following disparaging comments about Mexicans made by the show’s co-owner, Donald Trump.

According to Nielsen, the show averaged about 925,000 viewers during its first airing – only a fraction of the 5.6 million that watched last year's pageant on NBC, Ad Week reports.

But it's the largest audience Reelz has had for a given program since 2011, when it aired a controversial miniseries "The Kennedys," which had an average audience of just over 1 million first-run viewers over six nights, according to Ad Week.

Another analysis of the pageant's audience – counting how many people watched at least six minutes over the course of two airings – shows about 2.5 million tuned in, according to Nielsen.

Keep in mind that the ReelzChannel is available in less than 70 percent of U.S. households. CEO Stan E. Hubbard (pictured above with Miss USA Olivia Jordan and Hubbard's wife, Jennifer) was pleased with the outcome, telling the Star Tribune they "blew away" the audience targets he had in mind.

If you count the activity on social media – as Nielsen also does – the pageant was a hit on Twitter. There were 70,000 tweets about the pageant that were seen by 2.42 million people, according to Ad Week.

And here's one more element with a downside and an upside for Reelz.

Since many advertisers stayed away from the pageant to distance themselves from Trump's comments, Reelz didn't make much money from sponsors.

Instead, the channel used a lot of that commercial time to air promotions for upcoming projects as well as its general programming, which focuses mostly on movies, the Star Tribune notes.

"Probably half the viewers we had [for the pageant] have never been to Reelz before," Hubbard told the paper, which means at least some of them may tune in again down the road and lead to larger audiences in the future.

Hubbard has made it clear his decision to pick up the pageant at the last minute is not an endorsement of Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants.

Hubbard said last week he strongly disagrees with Trump, but didn't feel the pageant should be a victim of the controversy.

“The decision ... was based on our belief that this special event, and the women who compete in it, are an integral part of American tradition,” Hubbard told the New York Post. “As one of only a few independent networks, we decided to exercise our own voice and committed ourselves to bringing this pageant to American viewers everywhere.”

Earlier reports indicated Reelz did not pay a lot for the rights to broadcast the show. One industry insider told TheWrap it cost the channel as little as $100,000.

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