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Bingo: HGTV Supporting 'House Hunters' Ramp-Up with Multimedia, Experential Marketing Initiatives

HGTV is ramping up production for long-running series House Hunters and House Hunters International and supporting the tandem's new slate with a multimedia and experiential marketing campaign.

Whereas HGTV has run the shows throughout its slate, it is now scheduling House Hunters and House Hunters International original weeknight debuts at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., which began on Feb. 6. All told, HGTV has ordered more than 200 new installments of the series from Pie Town Productions and Leopard Films that will be airing now through June -- more than double its order for all of 2012.

"House Hunters and House Hunters International are among the most popular shows on HGTV and really resonate with our audience," Denise Conroy-Galley, senior vice president of marketing and creative services. "We really want to emphasize the schedule of new originals."

Consistently ranking among its top 10 series among the target demo of adults 25 to 54, HGTV executive said some 20 million viewers tuned in either of the shows in January. These lineup staples -- House Hunters premiered in September 1999, its spinoff in February 2006 -- have become part of the pop culture, as evidenced by a recent shout-out for HHI by Craig Ferguson on the CBS's Late Late Show; and an HH feature in People. Moreover, Tina Fey's Liz Lemon referenced HH on the Jan. 19 episode of NBC's 30 Rock. On the episode entitled "Idiots Are People Two," dialogue included the lines: "I also have a lot of imaginary arguments with the couples of House Hunters. Why can't people look past paint color?"

Riffing off the drinking games tied to Fox's former serial 24 in which aficionados downed a shot for every Jack Bauer "damnit," HGTV is developing a bingo game around such series catchphrases as "wow!" "this is amazing!" and "OMG!" Visitors to HGTV.com/househunters can print game cards and play along with the show.

The network is also taking the show on the road to New Orleans, staging a House Hunters Bingo House Party during Mardi Gras and with Gray Line's Jazz Cruise aboard the Steamboat Natchez as it sails up the Mississippi River.

It's also working with New York-based social media/marketing company House Party, which winnowed 12,000 national responses to 1,000 hostesses, who will play House Hunters bingo with guests in their homes.

"We haven't done a lot of experiential marketing, but we think these are interesting opportunities," said Conroy-Galley.

Viewers also can "house hunt" in real time using the new House Hunters app, which will be available in the Apple Store for download on iPad this month. The free app, which corresponds with episodes of House Hunters International that air on Thursdays, spins on Media-Sync technology that allows viewers to play along with home buyers in the show. The app also includes trivia about international living, quizzes on the houses in the episode, viewer polls and a submissions feature to send in guesses for which house the soon-to-be-homeowners will choose.

The online community can come together on the House Hunters Facebook page, where fans can find additional exclusive content. They also can share stories about their own house hunting experiences and chat about the show. A "Fan of the Week" will be selected and showcased each week.

"HGTV has its own Facebook page," said Conroy-Galley. "This is our first show extension page."

These efforts are complementing more traditional media endeavors. In addition to the promos that are running on the network and other Scripps TV services, HGTV, through new shop Horizon Media, has secured schedules, beginning on Feb. 13, on cable networks targeting four audience segments. To that end, New York's Defiant has developed four creative executions aimed accordingly at women in their 30 and 40, who are either soccer moms or consider themselves to be hipsters; the occasional network watcher who sometimes opens the door to new home viewing on the two series; and a fourth group that prefers the international version of the show.

There are also digital buys on Hulu, Facebook and SheKnows.com, plus print ads in US, People and TV Guide. And while HGTV typically doesn't use radio, it will put that medium into play with tune-in ads in the top 15 markets, according to Conroy-Galley.

All in, she estimated the value of the campaign at $5 million. The network's goal: a 15% spike in ratings.

After the upcoming flight, Conroy-Galley said HGTV's focus will shift to more social media gambits and public relations initiatives, with a particular emphasis on conversion markets, where HH and HHI deliver strong ratings.