Cable Show: Linear Nets Launched Binge-Viewing

Los Angeles -- While Netflix and other over-the-top viewers have been lauded for allowing viewers to catch up on episodes and seasons of top original series, programming executives at Cable Show contend their services have been ahead of that curve.  

Kevin Bennett, executive vice president and general manager of Investigation Discovery, ,American Heroes and Destination America, speaking at panel here Tuesday afternoon, said that entrance of new competitors has underscored the value of stacking and marathon strategies, and overall genre-focused fare. He said that what ID’s audience wants is mystery and suspense content 24/7. “We’re providing binge-viewing all the time,” said Bennett.

Mark Robichaux, editor in chief of Multichannel News, moderated the panel, entitled “Staying Power: Business Strategies for Linear Television.”

Kathleen Finch, president of HGTV, DIY Network and Great American Country, said Scripps “started binge viewing,” noting that when people are interested in shows about cooking they turn to Food Network, when they’re interested in home renovation, HGTV is the destination.  She noted that whether stacking or building series, Scripps services offers genre fare that viewers always want.  To that end, she said the company presents a number of spinoffs, citing the five different iterations and 400 episodes of House Hunters. This consistency of scheduling/programming “keeps us in business, attracts women, mostly upscale. This predates Netflix.”

The third member of the panel, David Nathanson, general manager and COO of Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, discussed a somewhat different construct under which Fox Sports converted the motor sports-focused Speed and action sports/UFC proponent Fuel into the respective general sports services last Aug. 17.

“We felt there was an opportunity to compete for a broader audience. There are still plenty of hyper-niches in the digital world,” he said, noting that “not every sport works nationally.”

Although FS1 and FS2 now proffer an array of sports properties, Nathanson said they are being guided in similar manners to services at Discovery and Scripps. “It’s a very long-term view. We’ve invested in rights deals that are 10-years plus in some cases, so we’re building an asset and brand and that takes time.”

Nathanson said there was consistency in approach across Fox Sports properties in their commitment to the highest production values and on-air innovation. He also talked about the programmer’s commitment to being fan-friendly, pointing out that Fox NFL Sunday has been number one pro football pregame show for 17 years running because its on-air talent is “irreverent and have fun. The Fox attitude distinguishes us; it’s ingrained in our DNA.”

Finch said Scripps has templates and its key demo in mind as it makes programming choices. She said HGTV has “an enviable audience,” -- its been the top network among upscale women for seven consecutive years.  As such, HGTV executives are looking to households that own their own homes, are college- educated and hold white-collar gigs. 

She said HGTV programs to that very specific target and avoids shows that “skew off those rails.” In evaluating a series the network doesn’t want a series that garner a C or D county audience. “It might do equal household numbers, but no so in the demo.”

Bennett said ID is more genre-based than demo-focused: “We want people that like the mystery and suspense genre. That cuts across a wide spectrum of all demo blocks, including those residing in C and D counties.”

Pointing to the recent rebranding of the American Heroes service, he said the old joke was that if a husband wanted his wife to leave the room, he’d say he was watching, its forbear, the Military Channel. With the name change and the service retaining much of the same schedule, women in focus groups now say they would tune in American Heroes.  “But when we asked them, ‘Would you watch Military?’ They would say, ‘No, that’s not for me.’ ”

Bennett said “we want to get more people into the tent and then give them what they want. We’ll let the sales people sort out the demos.”

Nathanson said that he disliked all of the focus on the various median ages and demo division of the different sports because that way of thinking “neglects to recognize what we can deliver. The number one show for women is the NFL.” He said U.S. Open Golf, which will tee on Fox Sports for the first time in 2015, skews a little older and toward the high end of the income scale, but that doesn’t mean it won’t attract others. Along those lines, he said NASCAR attracts more women than most people would think.

Fox Sports, he said, has appeal for viewers from cradle to the grave, with younger viewers favoring soccer and Street League Skateboarding. He cited different audiences for college football and basketball, for UFC, NASCAR and golf. “We cover either end of the spectrum audience, which we’re looking to broaden. We’re the opposite of Kathleen.”