Reelz sets up shop in Albuquerque

Entertainment cabler moves to cut costs, unify

Six months ago, ReelzChannel said it was leaving its offices in Los Angeles, the center of the entertainment world, for Albuquerque, the center of New Mexico.

It seemed like an odd choice for the showbiz-focused cabler, but chairman-CEO Stan E. Hubbard says the decision to put the channel’s L.A.- and Minneapolis/ St. Paul-based programming, production, Web, marketing and communications departments into a 30,000-square-foot facility under one roof was a no-brainer.

“We are a startup, 100% advertiser-supported business, and L.A. is an expensive place,” Hubbard says of the company that launched in September 2006. “Once we learned about the opportunities in New Mexico, it really was shame-on-us if we didn’t pursue them.”

Those opportunities include lower labor costs, incentives (a 25% tax rebate on all production expenditures with no minimum or cap) and Albuquerque Studios, whose high-tech communication system makes operating remotely possible.

“As opposed to what happens in L.A., where people are retrofitting old facilities, we had the ability to build from scratch and have first-rate technology,” Albuquerque Studios’ senior VP Jeremy Hariton says. “When we put the infrastructure in for the data backbone, we used Cisco and designed all the stages with fiber connections to every office and set up remote cap and real-time editing and viewing. We also have ways to pipe information to L.A. or anywhere in the world.”

Unveiled in June 2007, Albuquerque Studios is a 28-acre studio complex consisting of eight soundstages and support offices a mere five-minute car ride from the local airport, an hourlong flight from L.A.

Hubbard says most of the company’s California-based employees chose not to make the 800-mile move, despite the city’s high quality-of-life ranking. Instead, Reelz’s current staff consists of more than 80% New Mexico residents.

Hubbard says the makeover was a blessing. “It really allowed us to start thinking a bit more like a movie fan and consumer, rather than thinking like we are part of the industry.”

The move will reportedly save $20 million in annual operating costs for Reelz, which maintains a small bureau in L.A. and ad sales offices in New York and Chicago.

“We will spend roughly half of what we were spending in L.A.,” Hubbard explains. “That will allow us to spend more marketing dollars, and make and acquire more programming.”

While Albuquerque Studios has enticed numerous Hollywood productions in recent years, including “Terminator Salvation,” the AMC series “Breaking Bad” and Denzel Washington starrer “The Book of Eli,” Reelz is the first entertainment company to make the facility its corporate headquarters. (NBC Universal Lighting and Grip, Clairmont Camera and TM Equipment Rental, among others, have set up branches on the premises.)

“The reality is that with a television channel and website like ours, the vast majority of the work is done in an office, a studio or editing room, which can be located anywhere,” Hubbard says.

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