14 July 2016
Like ants at a summer picnic, today’s viewer seems to have an insatiable appetite for lifestyle programming. From cooking to real estate to finance to fitness, programmers are dishing up an unprecedented number of servings to keep the buffet stocked at all times - even in the face of perceived heavy competition.

Case in point, lifestyle heavyweight Scripps Networks Interactive will be programming close to 100 hours of premiere content against the Summer Olympics. “We’re going to double what we’ve done before during the London Olympics,” says Kathleen Finch, Scripps chief programming, content & brand officer. “Our core viewers are not going to want to watch every moment of the Olympics. When other people are dark, we are going to aggressively program.”

Scripps is pumping out 2,500 hours of programming this year, and currently has more than 100 shows in development to fortify “the consistent environment that keeps viewers coming back” and ratings up year-long across networks, Finch says.

“We’ve never had this many pilots in production before,” she elaborates to Cynopsis. “We’ve been doing it on HGTV for a number of years and now we’re focusing the strategy on Food Network and Travel Channel. If we find a talent we think is compelling, we’ll make a pilot - whatever we think the content lends itself to. It’s a defensive move; it enables us to get great talent, get a corner on the market and keep content fresh.”

It also enables the fluid introduction of content, even if that content follows a different distribution path than initially intended. “We have an enviable problem at HGTV. Things are going so well at the network - there are so many episodes of Flip Or Flop, House Hunters, Property Brothers - it’s hard to find a slot to put something new,” she says.

Network-flipping is not a totally uncommon occurrence these days. The series Ginormous Food “was intended for Travel Channel, since we do some food content there, but when took a closer look we thought, ‘This actually feels like something that can pair with Diners, Drive Ins and DivesGuy Fieri of Food Network's 'Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives',’” Finch says. “We’ve built this really powerful ecosystem and we can move the audience from one network to another. Our goal is just to keep them in our ecosystem.”

As well as fortifying its individual networks Scripps also now finds the occasional programming event that criss-crosses multiple nets and advertising opportunities. In the works is a Halloween Spooktacular activation across Food, HGTV and Travel that will feature talent and assets from the three networks around the building of life-sized haunted gingerbread houses on an outdoor plaza in Las Vegas. 

“It’s something we are selling in the Upfront market,” says Jon Steinlauf, Scripps president of national ad sales & marketing. “Holiday time is when all our nets use common traditions so we have the opportunity to layer in multiple touch points for consumers within those categories. And there will be off-air elements and opportunities because there will be thousands of tourists walking by.”

All Together Now

Bravo Media is feeding its lifestyle pipeline with the recent green light for a handful of new series, including Yours Mine or Ours, a couples real estate show executive produced by Ryan Seacrest; small business owner-focused Relative Success With Tabatha Coffey; Gen X/baby boomer nostalgia show Then & Now With Andy Cohen; and The Lodge, about the staff at a Whistler ski resort lodge.

The network is giving its lifestyle audience a place to call home by corralling its cooking and real estate shows, including Top Chef, Million Dollar Listing and Flipping Out, on Thursday nights.

“Real estate and food shows are all living on Thursdays; we haven’t really done that before,” says Jerry Leo, executive VP, program strategy, lifestyle networks, NBCU Cable Entertainment & Production. “It feels like it’s a slightly different viewer that’s watching those shows from our others, and putting them all on Thursdays creates an environment they can gravitate to.” The network’s lifestyle-focused audience tends to skew “a little more male, different from viewers for our ensemble shows on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. These shows are more procedural, that’s the hook.”

Noting the network is in the early stages of building the lifestyle destination night, Leo says the idea is that one show would hand off to another to keep interest piqued and eyes glued. “So Million Dollar Listing New York will end and there’ll be a sneak preview for Million Dollar Listing LA. We’re trying to be very seamless.”

No Place Like Home

Hallmark Channel provides its lifestyle-leaning viewers a daily dose of programming. The net’s daily two-hour lifestyle program Home & Family offers yearlong segments on topics including cooking, gardening, decorating, entertaining, finance and health.

“Viewers can count on us all year long to bring them fresh new content,” says Michelle Vicary, EVP of programming and network publicity. “Because of the variety of topics, there is something for everyone.”

Vicary says Hallmark’s audience levels are at their highest during holidays, and not just among women 25-54. “We are seeing huge jumps in viewers in the 18-49 demo and this growth is actually ongoing throughout the whole year,” she says. “Home & Family fans are incredibly vocal on social media about what they like and want more of, and their opinions are an important factor in the decisions we make about content.”
The embrace of family viewing is bringing new advertising clients to the company. Scripps is benefiting from increased business from movie studios and restaurant chains, Steinlauf tells Cynopsis. “The movie studios have been able to integrate into Chopped Junior and Kids Baking Championship,” he says. “There are family movie releases that can be part of the theme, as well as guest judges and longer trailers for guest breaks.”

Scripps is also fattening its e-commerce wallet. For Scott brothers house-flipping show Brother Vs. Brother, viewers are invited to “shop the look” of sponsoring partner Wayfair. “While the show is on live there are triggers that tell viewers if they like the look in that, room they can go to a landing page on Wayfair.com and buy it,” Finch says. “Wayfair likes the approach because HGTV has the best live audience numbers in all of television - 95 percent of people watching Brother Vs. Brother are doing so live.”

Additionally, HGTV and Food Network this summer are collaborating with Amazon on exclusive free Watch & Shop” apps for Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV stick devices that enable viewers to directly purchase products while watching digital home and lifestyle programs. Among shows featured are HGTV’s Home Improvement, sponsored by 3M, and HGTV Gardening, sponsored by Scotts Miracle-Gro.

Growing a Niche

With competition elevating across broadcast, cable and digital realms, networks are continually looking for new avenues to audience growth. Health entertainment cable net Z Living is ratcheting up its slate, adding six new series this summer including Change The Day You Die, Family Food Challenge and Class FitSugar, the first show under its new partnership with PopSugar.

“While other networks dabble in the health space, our 24/7 focus is providing compelling content in the form of stories, competitions and reality  all within a healthy context,” GM Rafe Oller tells Cynopsis. “We used to be focused on how-to programming, but with health and fitness now part of the mainstream, we have pivoted to health entertainment.”

At Scripps, “One of the changes we are seeing, and it’s very deliberate, is we’re growing our millennial audience exponentially,” Finch says. Food Network schedules particularly family-friendly fare at 8p, including Chopped Junior, Kids Baking Championship and, coming up, Food Network Star Kids. “Our co-viewing is the highest it’s been in years and our millennial audience grew by 24 percent year over year in the month of April.”

Though he can’t yet reveal details, Leo says Bravo will announce two new real estate series at summer TCA that are “a couple of big swings for us.”

The ants go marching on.
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