How Texas Monthly is cashing in on Hollywood’s true crime obsession

  • Texas Monthly has 50 film and TV projects sold or in development, half in the true crime genre, based on its journalism.
  • The 50-year-old publication is eyeing 10% of its revenue coming from entertainment sources in 2024.
  • Scott Brown, Texas Monthly’s president, said it has seen a lift in readership when projects air.

“Hit Man,” a Richard Linklater action comedy based on Texas Monthly reporting about a hired killer, received positive reviews at its Venice and Toronto premieres, and was quickly followed by a $20 million Netflix deal — a coup in an otherwise quiet year for festival acquisitions.

Houston-born Linklater’s film isn’t the first Hollywood project to land for Texas Monthly, but its Netflix payday and creative credentials (he’s a five-time Oscar nominee) make it the most high-profile since the publication began adapting articles from its 50-year archives in 2019. And “Hit Man,” which is set to hit theaters before streaming on Netflix in 2024, exemplifies much of what has worked for the magazine’s four-year push into entertainment.

Streamers are increasingly interested in true crime and stories about the American heartland, and Texas Monthly fits the bill. Half of the publication’s 50 film and television projects are in the true crime genre.

“They’re trying to reach the middle of the country, and we’ve got things that do that,” Texas Monthly president Scott Brown told Insider.

Brown expects the company to add around $1 million in entertainment-related revenue in 2024, with 32 films and series sold or optioned and another 18 in development. This brings the total he’s aiming for from these efforts to 10% of Texas Monthly’s revenue, which he hopes to increase to 20% over time. Other revenue streams include advertising, custom content, and distribution.

Aside from “Hit Man,” recent adaptations include “Land Man,” an upcoming TV series about the state’s oil boom from Taylor Sheridan (another born-and-raised Texan), and an untitled exoneration documentary about a 1981 murder by award-winning filmmaker Deborah Esquenazi.

Texas Monthly also has a first-look deal with Warner Bros. Discovery’s streaming service Max, which resulted in the publication’s first projects to hit the screen: this spring’s limited series “Love & Death” and docuseries “How to Create a Sex Scandal.”

Sarah Aubrey, Max’s head of original content (and an Austin native), told Insider Texas Monthly that the company has a “uncanny ability” to find not only gripping true crime stories but also cultural stories with memorable characters. “We just can’t rip our eyes from the screen,” she went on to say. “We could imagine big casts being really drawn to these roles in “Love & Death,” she added. These stories attract acting talent.”

Such projects, according to Brown, are first and foremost a magnet for new audiences. It’s early days, but in the two months following the premiere of “Love & Death,” Texas Monthly’s site traffic increased 15% above average, and sign-ups to its True Crime newsletter increased 25% above average. “It was undeniably undeniable,” he said.

Brown added, “We need a lot of “Love & Deaths.” “We need a lot of these things in the world with our name on it.”

Texas Monthly joins a growing trend of legacy and digital publications — from Time to Vox — adapting their articles for film and television projects in order to diversify and grow revenue while also reaching new audiences.

The simultaneous writers’ and actors’ strikes derailed Texas Monthly’s plans, as well as those of the rest of Hollywood, when buying and production largely ceased. This year, entertainment deals accounted for only about 2% of the publication’s revenue.

While the writers’ strike has ended, the actors’ strike is still in effect, and much production is still halted. Even after the actors return to the set, Hollywood’s appetite for future spending is expected to be dampened as Wall Street increases pressure on streaming to become profitable.

Brown anticipates a significant increase in his publication’s film and television activity as a result of the strikes, thanks to the groundwork it has laid over the past several months. He and his team have stayed in close contact with their CAA reps and buyers to stay on top of what they’re looking for, so the publication can ensure it has projects ready to go that meet their mandates. Brown is hopeful that three or four titles, including the Esquenazi documentary, will be greenlit soon after the actors’ strike ends, especially since its subject, James Reyos, was recently declared innocent.

“I believe we have enough stuff that’s far enough along that we will be the ones that’ll get greenlit,” he said. “We’re really feeling good.”

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