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Reelz CEO Brings Independent Streak and Touch of Minnesota to TCA

Stan E. Hubbard is a junior media mogul straight out of “Fargo.”

The Minnesota-born boss of cabler Reelz is a scion of the family behind the St. Paul-based radio and TV pioneer Hubbard Broadcasting, founded by his grandfather in 1923. Today, the company stands a rare example of an independent, family owned media company that has national presence with Reelz. It owns a stake in arts-centric cabler Ovation, as well as 14 TV stations and 48 radio stations.

Hubbard brought a folksy Minnesota touch — and his 10-year-old son, also named Stanley — to the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills on Sunday. He was there to introduce the panel session for Reelz’s upcoming reality series “Master P’s Family Empire.” But he knew reporters were going to ask him about Reelz’s decision to rescue the Miss USA pageant last month after Univision and NBC. So he hit the topic head on.

“Reelz has been in the news lately for saving the Miss USA Pageant, saving its 54th year on television, and we’re darn proud of that,” he said. “As the only family owned network left, and one of very few independents, we were able to move quickly and make those kind of decisions for those opportunities when they present themselves.”

Hubbard kept his cool when a reporter interrupted his segue to the “Master P” panel to demand he elaborate on the Miss USA situation. No, he doesn’t condone Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants — the reason why Univision and NBC dropped the Trump-owned property — but he felt that the pageant contestants and host city Baton Rouge, La., were being unfairly punished because of “political correctness.”

“We completely disavowed ourselves from any of those comments. I think they were terrible. I think they were ridiculous, but we’re really proud to stand with the women of the Miss USA Pageant and the community of Baton Rouge and bring it to the air. … That’s what we are proud of,” he said.

Hubbard later spent another 10 minutes in the scrum talking to a small group of reporters about all things Miss USA and Reelz. As he left the Beverly Hilton ballroom, he paused to ask the reporter who’d interrupted his onstage remarks if he’d adequately responded to her question. He was utterly sincere.

Hubbard may have Minnesota-nice in his DNA, but he’s no rube. He has no illusions about the immense challenges that Reelz faces just to survive as an independent channel in an arena of mega programming and distribution congloms. The cabler launched in 2006 and now reaches about 70 million subscribers. It has yet to reach the cash-flow positive stage, he acknowledges.

“The business is now all about giants and giants are all above shaving at the edges. Independents are the first to go” in that environment, he said.

So why keep at it with Reelz? The Hubbard clan’s place in TV history is secure, and they surely don’t need the money.

“It’s what we do,” Hubbard said matter-of-factly. “We just have to be more efficient at what we do than other media companies.” That’s one reason why Reelz is based on Albuquerque, N.M., and the Hubbards have never left their Minnesota home base.

Hubbard Broadcasting founder Stan E. Hubbard was an early entrant in the commercial radio business, and then launched one of the Midwest’s first commercial TV stations with KSTP-TV St. Paul in 1948.

In the 1980s, under the direction of Stan E.’s son, Stan S. (father of Reelz’s Stan E.), Hubbard Broadcasting was a forerunner of the use of satellite TV technology in local newsgathering. That lead them to join the early 1990s race to launch satellite-delivered subscription TV services to compete with cable. The Hubbard’s United States Satellite Broadcasting gave DirecTV a run for its money until selling out to its larger competitor for $1.6 billion in 1999. The Hubbard clan remained a large shareholder in DirecTV, and as of a few weeks ago, AT&T.

Today, Stan E.’s sister, Ginny Morris, runs the radio group, which has been on an acquisition spree. Brother Robert Hubbard runs the TV stations, anchored by KSTP-TV, a powerhouse ABC affiliate.

Stan E. has the toughest assignment in trying to grow Reelz’s profile. His immediate focus is improving its channel position on key distributors. The Miss USA experience was a positive for the channel because it allowed them to initiate conversations with advertisers that weren’t previously on the network. With an average of about 1 million viewers, the pageant ranked as the channel’s second most-watched program ever — behind “The Kennedys” miniseries, another program that Reelz rescued from the ashes of controversy.

In conversation, Hubbard easily drops a few “you betchas” and is quick to talk about his own family, with kids ranging from 10 to 5. Ten-year-old Stanley, who sported a broken arm from a golf injury (“he plays hockey and lacrosse but he broke his arm playing golf. I can’t quite figure that out.”), is interested in making movies, which could take the family business in a wholly new direction one day.

Above all, Stan E. stresses, the Hubbard credo is to value the importance of integrity and civility in business, even in times of great stress.

“One thing I’ve learned from our family is — always do the right thing,” he said. “You know it. You always know it.”

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