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In an industry that some might say has overdosed on “unscripted reality” shows—which most viewers know are neither reality nor unscripted—networks are scrambling to catch the next wave of content genres. “Lifestyle” television has emerged as the next big thing, in some sectors already beginning to eclipse reality in its relevance to consumers.

Lifestyle is inclusive. Audiences recognize themselves in the stories they see. Unlike the latest housewives catfight or “trash to riches” pseudo-documentary, lifestyle content inspires. It educates. We all aspire to provide a better home for ourselves and our families—to prepare and enjoy delicious meals; to see new places and meet new people. That’s the power of lifestyle.

At Scripps Networks Interactive, home to HGTV, DIY Network, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, Great American Country and ULive, we don’t just think about lifestyle “viewers” or lifestyle “website visitors.” Over the last few years we’ve conducted extensive research to understand and define who those consumers are. Our studies indicate that lifestyle is about attitudes—specifically, positive attitudes. We refer to the consumers who embrace this category as “lifestyle enthusiasts.”

In simple terms, lifestyle enthusiasts are actively engaged in home, food and/or travel. Our research team worked with external statistical experts to identify a set of attitudinal questions that not only define consumer engagement and interest but are predictive of specific behaviors in these categories.

For example, just because you cook doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a food enthusiast. But if you watch cooking shows, read about food and restaurants in magazines and online and enjoy sharing food experiences and stories, you might be a food enthusiast even if you’ve never cooked a meal.

This shift in our research approach from a behavioral definition to an attitudinal one mirror what’s going on in our company’s programming content.

Deeper Dive and a Nice Surprise: The “Super Enthusiast”

Given the increased importance and focus in our industry on the lifestyle consumer, we decided to do a deeper dive into what makes lifestyle enthusiasts tick. Earlier this year we launched a new research project with GfK that included both a national survey of 2,003 adults aged 25-64, as well as in-home, ethnographic interviews. 

Our initial goals were to bring these lifestyle enthusiasts to light, as well as to understand their attitudes and engagement in categories beyond home, food and travel, but ones that are still important to our brands and our advertisers. 

As we worked through all the data, we discovered something unexpected. One unique group of consumers met the “enthusiast” criteria in all three categories of home, food and travel. Research revealed that 42% of consumers surveyed are “super enthusiasts,” meaning they stood out in almost every key measure. We knew that enthusiasts are a valuable and attractive target group for many companies, but these “super enthusiasts” represented a vastly enhanced opportunity for our brands and our advertisers.

Compared to the overall sample, super enthusiasts are more likely to take daily action based on something they saw in a TV program (171 index, or 71% more likely), a TV advertisement (186), or in online content (169).

In short, they do what they view.

Super enthusiasts are influential. Their friends, family and colleagues are more likely to ask for and trust their advice on a variety of topics, including cooking (146 index number), the best stores (141), vacation travel (142), automobiles (144), green products (158), healthy lifestyle (148), home renovation (146) and new foods (157).

Super enthusiasts are engaged in categories beyond home, food and travel. In fact, they are more likely than others to spend time and energy in a wide range of areas, including fitness and exercise (150), film and movies (155), shopping (167), green living (171), video games (182), finance (160) and new technology (165).

When it comes to financial services, super enthusiasts are more likely to have products such as a money market account (182), a brokerage account (167) or an IRA (148), and are almost twice as likely as others to pay for financial planning services.

In the automotive category, they are more likely to have leased (160) or purchased (138) a new car or truck. And they spend more. These enthusiasts are 42% more likely to have paid more than $60,000 for a vehicle.

Super enthusiasts are also avid shoppers. They are over 40% more likely to have shopped at a department store such as Macy’s or J.C. Penney in the past 30 days, and 23% more likely to frequent home improvement stores such as Home Depot or Lowe’s. Yet they are as likely as anyone else to shop discount stores such as Target or Walmart. They value quality over price, rewards and exclusivity and are also environmentally responsible.

Several programmers are testing the lifestyle waters with new network launches and/or rebrandings. But while it seems trendy to talk about lifestyle programming today, Scripps Networks has been advocating that story for over 20 years. We are not testing the waters. We own the lake.

And it’s a big lake. U.S. consumers spend more than $4 trillion in the home, food and travel categories—which makes up two-thirds of all discretionary spending. Lifestyle is big business. Though the impact of the super enthusiast is still to be determined, it could potentially influence media strategies throughout the industry for the foreseeable future. We’ll be watching.