Now That It’s Done Selling Its Shows to Netflix, Scripps Is Focusing on the Power of Live Viewing

Company looks to 'protect the advertising model' this upfront

HGTV will air a stand-alone special about Fixer Upper stars Chip and Joanna Gaines' new restaurant.
HGTV

In the current fractured TV universe, many networks are desperately trying to track an audience that has drifted away from linear viewing and onto other platforms and that are more difficult to monetize.

But that’s not the case for Scripps Networks Interactive, home to HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, DIY Network, Cooking Channel and Great American Country. As the company heads into this year’s upfront, it is doubling down on its linear strategy and playing up the value of its home, food and travel programming, which are mostly watched live.

President of national ad sales and marketing Jon Steinlauf said that with 4,000 new episodes a year, “if you tune into one of our channels, the chances of seeing something that’s brand-new is pretty high.” And that gives Scripps viewers very little incentive to watch programming via DVR or on demand.

“A lot of advertisers are starting to think of sports, news and Scripps as the place to get high-quality audiences live. And that’s the whole goal for an advertiser now—you have to buy where you think they’ll be watching live,” Steinlauf said.

That’s why the theme of Scripps’ upfront presentation this year is “environment matters.” (The company will again be holding seven regional upfront presentations, starting March 14 in Atlanta and hitting New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago and Boston.)

“Audiences are engaged not just to the content, but to the advertising,” said Steinlauf. “We think one of the biggest issues that marketers face right now is ad avoidance” due to time shifting and SVOD outlets like Netflix.

To make its content more attractive to viewers and advertisers, the company doesn’t syndicate episodes of its shows to other channels and opted to no longer sell its content to SVOD outlets after its two-year deal with Netflix lapsed at the end of 2016. “We’ve walked away from the SVOD marketplace because we want to keep everything here, exclusive to us,” Steinlauf said. “We have really gone against the grain, and the live viewing is the reward.”

Last week, Scripps announced on its earnings call that its U.S. ad sales were up 10 percent in 2016, and the company now has a double-digit share of cable advertising. “We believe in the advertising model, and we believe in protecting the advertising model,” said Steinlauf. “Once you let an audience shift into any form of time-shifted viewing, the odds of them seeing your commercials are dramatically lower, which means you can’t monetize them.”

We have really gone against the grain, and the live viewing is the reward.
Jon Steinlauf, president of national ad sales and marketing for Scripps Networks Interactive

For viewers of Scripps networks like HGTV, Steinlauf said, “the content inside the breaks is just as relevant as the content inside the shows.”

Given that draw of live television among its viewers, Steinlauf said, “we’re using the strength of the live story to get more creative that has a sense of urgency.” Scripps has seen an increase in ads for theatrical releases, especially on Thursday nights, while restaurants, retailers, packaged-goods and wireless companies with sales or promotions “are looking at us more as being a quick, one-night reach when they need it.”

However, Scripps’ renewed emphasis on linear doesn’t mean the company is ignoring digital. Chief programming, content and brand officer Kathleen Finch said that all of Scripps’ high-profile series have companion digital series.

Steinlauf said, “We sell a lot of advertising platforms on digital, but our business is mostly television. And we think we’ve got to serve our advertisers as best we can.”

Six-for-six

Scripps will be going into the upfront celebrating ratings growth for all six of its networks, which some have attributed to audiences looking for a refuge from incessant election and political coverage. “We were the only company that had ratings growth across the portfolio,” said Steinlauf. He debated using words like “comfort food” and “escapism” in upfront messaging as a nod to the new environment but ultimately “we don’t think it does us justice,” he said, given that its networks’ ratings had been increasing even prior to the election.