Scripps Networks’ Mission: Converge and Conquer

Upswing in digital activity by Food, HGTV nets driven by tablets and apps
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After years of focusing on research showing that Food Network and HGTV viewers are upscale, engaged and receptive to advertising pitches, Scripps Networks Interactive this season wants to be known for convergence.

Scripps executives, who will be making upfront presentations to media buyers in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, New York and Los Angeles over the next two months, think their ability to create advertising programs that include both their networks and Internet properties is pretty special. And they’re not the only ones.

The Scripps Networks digital ad sales group recently won the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Long Term Achievement Award for customer service, knowledge and innovation.

In January, a survey of media buyers by Beta Research gave Scripps the fourth-highest marks among network sales organizations for providing creative/ innovative multiplatform opportunities, behind ESPN/ ABC Sports, Discovery Networks and Fox Broadcasting. (In the same study, Food Network tied for the top network in terms of offering a desirable programming environment in which to advertise, with HGTV coming in fourth.)

“It starts with the categories. We have categories that are strong enough to bring people to the Website for reasons other than information about television,” says Jon Steinlauf, Scripps senior VP for ad sales.

“We’ve always done well selling advertising on our Websites,” Steinlauf says. He adds that the introduction of tablet devices like the iPad, along with apps, has contributed to a tremendous increase in interest in adding more digital to clients’ marketing mix.

“Tablets and apps have given the digital business a real shot in the arm,” Steinlauf says. “People have seen the ease with which you can navigate through these tablets and use the tablets together with other touchpoints. Advertisers want us to be aggressive in this area.”

The business is good. Even with the cable TV ad market very strong, digital sales are keeping pace and still account for 7% to 9% of Scripps Networks’ revenue.

Home Style Dreams Converging

There are a couple of ways that clients can approach Scripps to get convergent packages started. Some advertisers will buy into a tent-pole event like HGTV’s Dream House sweepstakes. This year’s Dream House drew a record 77 million online entries, up from 50 million last year. The program was supported by 14 sponsors, which had a presence both on TV and online.

Other times, advertisers will work with a client to create a custom program. “If the customer’s not there, there’s not going to be a there there for the marketer,” says Dina Roman, senior VP, interactive ad sales, Eastern region for Scripps Networks.

Foodnetwork.com and HGTV.com were looking to address the needs for busy families to celebrate special moments that could otherwise be overlooked, Roman says. This “Everyday Celebrations” idea resonated with General Mills, and it was developed with that client in mind, Roman says. The project involved online content created both by Scripps and by General Mills.

Once the project got off the ground online, television was added to the mix, with 10-second tips that toss to the Everyday Celebrations content online. When those run, Web traffic spikes, proving the value of convergent programs, Roman says.

“Online definitely makes TV dollars work harder, and TV definitely helps with the inspiration and driving the audience. We’d be foolish not to try to leverage those assets in a large partnership, so we do,” she says.

Roman declined to say how much the year-long project cost. “You have to remember that both entities, the Food Network on-air, HGTV on-air, Food Network and HGTV online and food.com online are very sizable properties in their own right,” she says. “The digital properties are very strong. They’re leaders in the category, so marketers recognize that value, particularly when you’re doing something that’s custom content creation.”

Richard Giannicchi, global media lead at Publicis Modem, the online agency for General Mills, says Scripps brings a lot to the convergence party. “It’s got one of the largest food destinations digitally, as well as one of the most popular food destinations in terms of broadcast. Not a lot of other people come to you with those credentials right off the bat,” Giannicchi says. “They’ve always been very open to new ideas, new thinking, new ways of us getting our messages out there, and our brands put into their environment in a really meaningful way.”

Steinlauf says that this year, Scripps Networks will be introducing more interactive elements into its TV programs, creating additional opportunities for convergent content.

There’s a new series on HGTV called Run My Makeover, which starts online at HGTV.com, where people can nominate their homes to be featured on the show. People who visit the site can pick the homes and decide which products will be used to do the project.

Another show called HGTV’d seeks people who want HGTV to do a project in their homes. Since the call for submissions started, there have been 17,500 uploads from people trying to get on the show, according to Steinlauf. “So we’re building more interactive elements into the programming experience too,” he says.

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

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