Scripps Networks Interactive is preparing to roll out its fresh-baked programming at an upfront event penciled for April 20 in New York, before heading out on a road trip to see buyers and clients in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas and Boston.
The lifestyle player will hit the upfronts with a roster of star power including Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis, HGTV’s Candice Olson and Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain. Last year, Scripps gave many upfront participants their fi rst taste of country crossover star Taylor Swift, who was featured on the company’s Great American Country service.
Scripps will have lots of news to share, with two channels to unveil. The company is launching Food Network spinoff The Cooking Channel on May 31, and is expected to further define the differences between the two services. Scripps will also be showing off its new addition Travel Channel, which has its own element of food-related programming. The company says it will officially take over Travel’s ad sales from Discovery Communications, which is handling operations for the second quarter of 2010. Greg Regis is the new senior VP of ad sales for the channel.
Despite the recession, Scripps channels have been faring well. Fourth-quarter ad revenues at the cable TV unit rose 7% to $281 million. By contrast, the two biggest cable content players, Time Warner and Viacom, each reported a 4% dip in ad sales for the fourth quarter. Total TV ad dollars for Scripps cable channels amounted to $1 billion in 2009; while that figure was flat, it’s better than the cable TV average, estimated to be a decline of 1%-2% for the full year.
Jon Steinlauf, senior VP of ad sales for Scripps Networks, says Scripps’ auto business is already up 40% year-over-year, with Hyundai, Ford and BMW on-air. The sector is bouncing back as Toyota’s rivals see an opportunity to take share by getting their messages on-air, Steinlauf says: “Automotive and retail are gaining momentum.”
A NEW AD MIX
In the first half of 2009, Scripps bore the brunt of the recession as people stopped spending on housing products while automotive, financial-services and home-goods retailers cut back on ad spending. In the second half of the year, the lifestyle player saw a change in its ad category mix. Consumer packaged goods (CPGs) is now Scripps’ No. 1 category of advertiser. “We have a new relationship with CPGs,” Steinlauf says. “They’ve been able to get on [air] in a big way, and we’re likely to see that continue.”
With ad dollars up, Scripps suggests it is taking money away from broadcast and cable outlets, such as Lifetime, that cast wide nets, as advertisers seek more targeted networks. “We’re seeing procurement officers questioning the CPMs of broadcast when NBC is doing a 1.5 rating and USA might be doing a 1.2 or a 1.3 rating,” Steinlauf says.
While some of NBC’s programs such as The Jay Leno Show have recorded ratings of that level, the network’s average season-to-date rating in 18-49- year-olds is 2.6 through Feb. 6, according to NBC.
Scatter rates on the Scripps flagship channels are running at about 20% higher than upfront CPM rates. Cable networks were forced to roll back pricing during the 2008-09 upfront from 3%-7%. Steinlauf says his networks fell somewhere in the middle of that range.
While Scripps’ battle with Cablevision over carriage renewal fees saw Food Network and HGTV yanked from 3 million cable homes, the spat only worked to reinforce just how passionate the company’s audience really is. Steinlauf jokes that he heard from many media buyers who were complaining on behalf of their families first, and clients second. The absence of those all-important New York viewers failed to dent the ratings. According to Nielsen numbers for January, Food Network ratings rose 28% to an average of 1.3 million viewers.