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 In The News

3/11/2016

Scripps programming chief 'most excited' by Travel Channel's 'upside'

SNL Kagan

By Mike Reynolds
 
After serving as president of HGTV (US), DIY Network (US) and Great American Country (US), Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. veteran Kathleen Finch was promoted to the company’s chief programming, content and brand officer in August 2015, adding Food Network (US), Cooking Channel (US) and Travel Channel (US) to her oversight.
 
Finch in a recent interview at the company’s New York offices discussed the evolving media landscape and changes ahead for Travel Channel, which Scripps now fully controls following the acquisition of the remaining 35% stake held by Cox Communications Inc. that the programmer did not already own. An edited transcript follows. 
 
SNL Kagan: All of the networks were up in viewing last year. Why is that?
 
Kathleen Finch: We’re listening to our audience. One thing we’re so excited about is that our length of tune is up across the board. If we find a show like [HGTV’s] “Flip or Flop” that’s really working well, we target those audiences and try to find iterative shows. Food Network’s “Chopped” is really performing. How do we expand to a kids’ edition and get the whole family in front of the TV? We’re good about building on what works and being very cognizant of what the audience wants us to be.
 
Linear TV is becoming a C7 world, but upward of 90% of your viewing is live. That is in the range of sports and news.
 
We’re happy to say 97% is live + same day as a percentage of C3.
 
What is the overall original output?
 
It’s about 2,500 hours; nobody touches that. This year, it’s a bit more. We’re making more “Chopped;” holiday programming works well for Food Network. When we find certain seasons and categories that overperform, we make as many [episodes] as we can.
 
But it’s a combination of serving fresh programming and scheduling strategically. We test things, move them around, look at our research. It’s stacking, stunting, creating like-minded shows. Repeats actually do very well on our air.
 
On Tuesdays, HGTV has “Fixer Upper,” the highest-rated show in Scripps’ history, premiere at 9 p.m. But we start repeats early in the afternoon, and then run more later. Part of it is our talent. We make sure people are not just watching the show because they’re interested in the subject matter, but because they fall in love with the talent. 
 
What outlets do you tap for talent?
 
I’m not going to tell [laughs]. No, it’s very hard for [competitors] to replicate what we’re doing. We’re not going to agencies and asking them to find some guys in the middle of nowhere. We were at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival and there were these great barbeque guys. My husband took some videos and pictures, and I immediately sent it to Food Network. We do that all the time.
 
Street reconnaissance?
 
Absolutely. All of the realtors across the country know we do “House Hunters,” and to be on the lookout for the top home improver, the great real estate agent or interior decorator. We can teach them to be good on television. But we need to make sure they are the real deal. We don’t put hosts on shows; we put experts on our shows.
 
Scripps now fully owns Travel Channel. Does that up the ante for the network, which is moving toTennessee from Maryland?
 
That happens in the next couple of weeks. We have always been all in on Travel. We knew we would fully own the network; that has been in the works for a long time. Of all the networks, we are most excited about the upside of Travel. There is so much to be said about having Travel at the mothership, where teams can have lunch and development meetings together. We have already taken scheduling learnings from HGTV and Food and implemented them at Travel. We have a hit show like “Expedition Unknown” and we’re stacking it on Wednesdays. We’re marketing it as [host] Josh Gates’ night, going off channel, and bringing more people to Travel, which had a nice 10% increase in February, year over year. 
 
Scripps now fully owns Travel Channel. Does that up the ante for the network, which is moving toTennessee from Maryland?
 
We’re bringing in celebrities. Queen Latifah has a show in which she goes to Brazil ahead of the Olympics. We have some comedians coming that bring a sense of humor about seeing the world, rather than a reverential view. We’re going to have a bit of a tonal change. 
 
What’s the strategy with Great American Country? You’ve switched from music to a more lifestyle orientation?
 
Out instincts were right. By diminishing the music content and instead focusing on the lifestyle, it improved our ratings. Most importantly, it improved our audience composition, as 2015 was the network’s most upscale year owing to certain lifestyle shows, like RV programming.
 
The most successful show on Great American Country and my personal favorite is “Flea Market Flip,” which is hosted by Lara Spencer from “Good Morning America.” It works on a thousand levels:  it’s competition, repurposing, recycling, clever ideas. And it’s just fun.
 
HGTV has been the top network in television among upscale women 25 to 54 for nine consecutive years.
 
Our schedule is consistent across the board. Seven nights a week, HGTV is at or above prime average, which I think is the most enviable position to be in, to create the right environment for clients. We’ve been able to find real people in real businesses and follow them doc-style: “Property Brothers,” “Fixer Upper,” “Flip or Flop.”
 
Those are our big shows, and we have 17 new series launching this year, and a lot are in the same vein. “Good Bones,” “Listed Sisters.” We have a sort of “going home show” with actress Monica Potter from “Parenthood.” She and her sisters go back to Cleveland to buy their family’s home, which has been abandoned for years. We catch them on camera for first time opening the door and their stuff is still there. It’s sweet, poignant, yet funny, about how these daughters really want to bring the house back for mom and dad.
 
Real people, real stories, the importance of home and talent all come together to get women to watch and now more than ever, their husbands are too. Part of that is we’re now telling more financial stories with flipping and home improvement shows that increase the value of things. That makes it more interesting for men.
 
Is DIY more instructional than HGTV?
 
In some ways it is, but I like to think it is more male. There is more humor, people get sweaty and dirty. In “Barnwood Builders,” they find these picturesque, old barns that are collapsing, take away the salvage and miraculous things can happen with the wood. There is a new one: “Maine Cabin Masters.”  Brothers and a cousin take abandoned hunting or fishing cabins, which are off the grid, and turn them into these high-end, rustic vacation homes.  Mike Holmes is coming back with a brand new series, “Holmes Buys Homes.”
 
Food had a ratings turnaround in 2015 and is adding younger viewers.
 
That’s a strategy across the network group to grow our millennial audience, and it’s working, particularly well with Food. This year, we are creating 50 pilots at Food and testing 30 new talents from a lot of different places, including [Alphabet Inc.’s] YouTube, where there are a lot of hot, young food experts with large social followings. I’m not sure what we’re going to call this show, but her YouTube series is called “My Cupcake Addiction.” Elise Strachan is an artist, not just a baker. We have a fun concept, where she is going to visit struggling bakeries, help revamp them and at the show’s end put an over-the-top cake on display, because desserts are so visual.
 
“12 Hungry Yelpers” is a funny new show we’re doing in partnership with Yelp Inc. You go into a restaurant and give it a Yelp review and then always wonder if the proprietor ever reads them.  [Host Monti Carlo] goes in and outs them.
 
What’s heating up on Cooking Channel?
 
Cooking finished its highest-rated year in 2015 and February was its highest-rated month. Cooking is really resonating with young people and growing that audience faster than with adults 25 to 54. We’re doing a lot of things with Snapchat. We do shows with Tia Mowry, Tiffani Thiessen and Patti LaBelle, tapping the world of celebrities who are really good cooks. That drives a lot of sampling.
 
What’s the impact of your TV Everywhere business?  
 
We’re promoting it across our networks, using our talent. We’re also integrating [TVE] into shows, so viewers see people using it. We’re taking a very organic approach because we figure we have an audience of early adopters. They are upscale, with different generations living in the house. We know it’s of interest to them.
 
You launched the Scripps Lifestyle Studios unit late last year. What do you do there? 
 
It’s an in-house production facility through which we can work with advertisers on custom content and short-form projects.
What the [staffers] have at their disposal is access to 100 experts from our culinary team and HGTV Studio. They can lend their voice, support and creativity.