The Kids Are Alright

Related: Scripps Networks Making Big Bet on Holidays

Lifestyle and food programming can be fun for the whole family.

Scripps Networks Interactive, which runs top-rated lifestyle channels including HGTV and Food Network, is adding kids and young moms to its programming to attract millennials and advertisers looking to reach younger viewers.

On Food Network, shows like Chopped and Cupcake Wars have featured kid chefs. Upcoming is Food Network Star Kids.

Meanwhile on HGTV, Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper is a young mom with young kids, Christina EI Moussa from Flip or Flop is a young mom with two kids. The net also has a mother-daughter team in Good Bones, sisters on Listed Sister and will feature actress Monica Potter of Parenthood renovating a family house in Cleveland in the upcoming Welcome Back Potter.

Many of these shows air at 8 p.m., an hour when most general entertainment are airing off-net programming instead of originals. With the bulk of its viewership live, Scripps has also done a lot of old-fashioned analysis of lead-ins, lead-outs and flow in order to maximize its audience.

The strategy has transformed primetime from an ad sales point of view. Instead of 8 p.m. being the lowest revenue-generating hour in primetime, it’s now close to the highest-revenue-generating hour, particularly on Food Network, said Jon Steinlauf, president of ad sales at Scripps Networks Interactive.

Scripps has long boasted having a lock on 25-54 upscale women who reliably buy products advertised on its networks. Now its 18-49 audience is growing.

“That opens up categories like movie studios, restaurant chains, soft drinks and technology,” Steinlauf says. “We’re doing a lot of integrations in these young shows,” he adds. The networks show movie trailers and can feature Star Wars or Kung Fu Panda cupcakes or have actors as guest judges.

“There’s a lot of things you can do when you have these big 18-49 audiences like we do on Food Network,” Steinlauf says. “If you can grow 18-49 on top of the demand we have for 25-54, it allows you to be a little more selective in terms of price.”

Steinlauf says the ad market picked up right around the time of last year’s upfront negotiations, and volume finished up about 7%. Since then, scatter market sales and the calendar upfront have been strong, indicating a solid upfront ahead.

That data everyone’s talking about backs up Scripps’ claim that its programming makes advertising more effective.“[Data is] the future,” Steinlauf says. “It’s not necessarily currency. We’re embracing data as a new factor in TV buying decisions because we think we’re going to benefit from it.”

This year’s upfront could hinge on those better ratings with younger viewers. “A lot of success with millennials is coming because we’re coming up with very family-friendly versions of our big hits,” says Kathleen Finch, chief programming content and brand officer at Scripps. “We air them at 8 o’clock to get all the family to start watching the networks. At 9, kids go to bed and Mom and Dad keep watching. We suck them in, and we’re very proud of that.”

“For years we have heard anecdotally, ‘Oh, my kids love to cook and they learn from watching Food Network,’” Finch says. “We know that’s true. It’s true with my own three kids. We hadn’t really programmed with kids in mind.”

Food Network also heard about young chefs and decided to put them on TV. That’s trickier with networks like HGTV, which came up with the young-moms-and-other-family-members approach.

“We hear all the time that HGTV is the guilty pleasure that moms and daughters can share together.,” Finch says. “So we’ve got both featured in a really cool show [Good Bones] that takes place in Indianapolis. It’s something we haven’t done before, a mother-daughter duo. We think it is really going to resonate with our viewers.”

Finch says finding talent is the secret to Scripps’ success when other programmers try to compete with lifestyle programming. “They [talent] always come to us first. We have teams looking for our next big star,” she says. “We make sure we have the right people representing our brand, that they’re really people who are leaders in that space, and then we teach them to be good on television.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.