INSP has experienced a record-setting ratings start to 2021, which landed the independent cable network among the 15 most-watched services in primetime during the first quarter, ahead of outlets such as Lifetime, A&E, FX, Bravo and AMC. INSP has successfully reached its target audience of viewers 50-plus with a mix of comfort fare, including vintage Westerns like Gunsmoke, The Virginian and Bonanza; original reality show Ultimate Cowboy Showdown, hosted by Trace Adkins; and documentary series Wild West Chronicles. INSP COO Dale Ardizzone recently spoke to B+C/MCN about the network’s record-setting ratings success as well as its prospects for continued post-pandemic audience growth.
B+C: What drove INSP’s ratings success during the pandemic?
Dale Ardizzone: We really have enjoyed tremendous success over the last year. It was a difficult year and, as all of us did across the country, we sort of held our breath in March, April and May as we tried to weather through all of this. What we found that was interesting is that during that period, our ratings dipped a bit during the day but remain very strong in the evening.
Our sense was that a lot of our viewers were obviously watching the news every day and trying to learn more about what was going on, but by early evening were looking for a place to relax and get comfortable programming that they love and trust. So, from a ratings standpoint, we were able to weather the storm, so to speak. One of the things we were able to do successfully was to show advertisers how loyal our viewers were and how INSP was still a very viable place for them to talk about their products.
We serve an audience of what we call cord-cuddlers, not cord-cutters. Our folks are not cutting the cord, but rather look to traditional cable as a real primary source of their entertainment, so our ratings continue to grow, our engagement continues to grow and we feel very good about the future.
B+C: How would you represent INSP’s brand?
DA: We have narrowed our focus to content that stands for certain principles in terms of justice, heroic characters and, in most instances, good triumphing over evil. That’s one of the reasons that we think that the classic Westerns have resonated so well with our audience. These are stories that are built on a conflict with a heroic character, and there are usually underlying themes of justice and in the end of wrongs being righted.
We’ve really found that for our audience, seeing those underlying themes in a Western, and in what we call Western-adjacent formats, has helped us fine-tune where we’re headed. Even our originals have a Western, cowboy feel and a theme to them, whether it’s about doing right by people in their town or in their family, or just in their dealings. That has allowed us to narrow down our scope and our approach.
B+C: Do you have any plans to move the brand toward the streaming platform?
DA: Most of our original content premieres on our linear channel, and some on other distribution platforms. We are active on a number of those platforms with our content, but we have not launched our own service as of yet. It’s something we continue to look at and evaluate. I’m a believer that the ecosystem is very complex with lots of opportunity in different places. Our viewers are not cutting the cord and going to these other places, so for us, our core audience continues to remain linear.
B+C: Will INSP be able to maintain its ratings momentum post-pandemic, as more people go out and potentially spend less time watching TV?
DA: We think our content will continue to be a driver for consumers, and it’s not necessarily going to take a tremendous hit in ratings or popularity even though people are getting out more, which by the way we think is great. We’re all welcoming the need to start to get back to normalcy, although I think it’s a cautious return now.
We’re all excited about getting back outside and being engaged, but I think for most of the folks that we hear from — and certainly for a lot of our viewers — it’s going to be a cautious return.
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.