Why GSN Will Do ‘More of the Same’ as Other Networks Scramble for New Ideas

Viewers are younger thanks to brand refresh

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During this upfront season, several networks will brag about their exciting new directions and evolutions. In fact, a couple of them have already done that.

But not the Game Show Network, which held its upfront presentation Tuesday morning. Its ratings are rising, and the network is slowly but surely getting younger thanks to a brand refresh several years ago, which resulted in GSN doubling its original programming output over the past three years.

"I'm proud to announce that we're going to be doing more of the same," said David Goldhill, president and CEO, of GSN, which airs a mix of original and classic game programming.

"Our little niche television network is now a top 30 television network, up from the mid-40s a couple of years ago," said Goldhill, speaking with buyers at New York's Paley Center for Media. The statistic refers to total day ratings and total viewers, but excludes news and sports networks.

"We are growing at a very difficult time," said Goldhill of the network, which is owned by AT&T Entertainment Group and Sony Pictures Entertainment. While linear ratings are falling for many broadcast and cable networks, GSN sees growth during prime time with original programming. "We have double-digit growth across all key demos," said Goldhill, adding that 60 percent of the network's new viewers last year were under the age of 50. Over the past five years, GSN's median viewer age fell to 59.

Goldhill joked about the data-based slicing and dicing that many networks brag about during their upfronts. "I'm proud to say that we're a top 10 network in Norfolk, Va., during what we call the 'Jackpot' time period," said Goldhill. (And no, those aren't real metrics.)

"It's been very exciting to be part of a small company that has grown so much over the last few years. I loved watching Bravo as a network just explode, and I feel like that's where GSN is," Rebecca Romijn, host of the body-painting competition series Skin Wars (GSN's most-watched show, which returns for Season 3 on April 20), told Adweek. "The demographic keeps getting younger, and we've been at the ground floor for it. It's really exciting."

With few new bells and whistles to introduce, GSN stuck to a lower-key presentation, as John Zaccario, evp of advertising sales, led conversations with show talent and producers—including Romijn, RuPaul Charles (a Skin Wars judge who is also hosting the upcoming Skin Wars: Fresh Paint) and Donald Faison (host of the new game show Winsanity)—along with Amy Introcaso-Davis, evp of programming and development.

RuPaul discussed his new Skin Wars spinoff (and GSN's first series spinoff), Skin Wars Fresh Paint, which he is hosting and executive producing. On the show, artists from other disciplines will compete in body painting for the first time.

Other new shows this year include Window Warriors, a competition series to find the next great window dresser, which will be completed in time for the holidays. The winner will design a holiday display for "a big retail store in New York City," said Introcaso-Davis. Winsanity, hosted by Scrubs' Faison, features contestants ranking 10 facts in numerical order (from highest to lowest), with a portion of the studio audience selected to win prizes as well.

Later this year, GSN will air the special Political Idiotest, a political-themed edition of the Idiotest game show, hosted by Ben Gleib, with "visual-based, political puzzles," said Gleib, who added, "There are a lot of idiots running for president this year."

The network has renewed Hellevator, which challenges candidates to perform tasks in an abandoned slaughterhouse.

GSN has a pair of pilots in contention—Breaking App, a competition to launch the next big mobile app, and The Investigation, an hour-long crime-solving game with two sets of "detectives" competing to submit the most accurate pieces of evidence to the "District Attorney." A third show, Glass Wars, a glassblowing competition, is also in development.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.