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Scripps Knows Why Viewers Like Watching Ads on Its Channels

At a time when many networks are looking to cut back on commercials, Scripps Networks Interactive says its viewers like and respond to the advertising it shows.

Scripps Networks has long claimed that its brand of lifestyle programming — focusing on areas including home, food and travel — is more advertiser-friendly than other types of programming and will be pointing to new research to back up its claims.

It will be doing so, however, in the midst of corporate changes. Now that it has been acquired by Discovery Communications, the two companies are scrambling to incorporate each other’s networks into their upfront presentations. Discovery was taking an agency-by-agency approach, while Scripps is starting a six-city road show of upfront events beginning March 20 in Detroit.

The two companies haven’t been able to communicate since the acquisition was announced. With the deal closing last week, just as presentations are starting, “we’ll try to make it as balanced as possible,” said Jon Steinlauf, the Scripps veteran who was named chief advertising sales officer for the combined company.

Numbers compiled by Simmons Research on engagement show why advertising works on Scripps, Steinlauf said.

In the study, about 15,000 people were asked about the advertising they saw on cable channels. One question asked how well the ads fit with the content on the channel. Responses were grouped by parent company and Scripps Networks came out on top among 10 programmers with a 136 index — 36% above average.

Conveniently, Discovery came in second, followed by Viacom, NBCUniversal, Turner, Fox, A+E, Disney, AMC Networks and Crown Media.

Another question asked consumers to rank the networks on whether the ads were about things they cared about.

Scripps was first again with a 138 index, Steinlauf said.

“The last category asked if the products and services advertised were of high quality,” he said. “Scripps was again first amongst the 10 with a 133 index.”

The research backs up the theme of the Scripps presentation, which is, “Advertising Works Here.”

You Can’t Beat Live

One reason why advertising works on Scripps is because a lot of it is watched live, like sports or news programming.

“There’s a unique distinction about Scripps, which is even though the shows aren’t live, the audience uses the content in a very similar manner that they use sports, news and event programming,” Steinlauf said. “They prefer overwhelmingly to watch these channels live, so we don’t want to be thrown into a bucket with all of these scripted shows that are recorded or not even embedded with advertising.”

A lot of ads are being wiped out as viewers fast-forward through commercials in shows watched on DVRs or on-demand, or binge on network shows on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

“I think it’s a lot easier to get somebody to see an ad live than it is to try to get them to see it once it falls into any form of time-shifting or streaming,” he said.

One reason why Scripps’ live numbers are high is because its brands are distinctive and it is able to produce 4,000 episodes a year of original programming.

“Brands have never ever mattered the way they do now,” said Kathleen Finch, who had been in charge of programming at Scripps Networks but after the Discovery deal will head a portfolio of networks including HGTV, Food Network, TLC, ID, Travel Channel, DIY Network, Cooking Channel, Discovery Life, American Heroes Channel, Destination America and GAC as chief lifestyle brands officer.

“There are all these different options where you can go for drama and entertainment and comedy. All of our viewers know that if you want lifestyle you come to our brands. And that’s a promise that we can fulfill seven nights a week,” Finch said.

The Scripps networks have been ratcheting up the number of original shows on HGTV. According to Finch, HGTV will have a premiere episode of one of its series every night, 365 nights a year. “I don’t think any other network can say that,” she said.

And it might not matter which show is new that night. “It never bothers us when we go out to focus groups and viewers don’t exactly know the names of the shows they’re always watching,” Finch said. “That’s OK. What they say is, ‘I turn on HGTV.’ ‘I turn on Food Network.’ ‘I turn on Travel Channel, because I’m in the mood for it and I know I will be satisfied,’” she said. “And that’s a much better business proposition than having a hit on Tuesday and then nothing else the rest of the week. [Our advertisers know they’re] getting the same upscale, quality, endemic engaged audience every night of the week.”

Stunt Programming Is a Piece of Cake

That doesn’t mean Scripps Networks don’t do programming stunts and specials. On Food Network, for examples, Mondays have turned into baking night, with series including Vegas Cakes, Dallas Cakes and Ridiculous Cakes.

And on Travel Channel, Expedition Unknown host Josh Gates will be doing a special, Expedition Unknown: Hunt for the Afterlife.

Scripps may have found a formula for Travel. “Our sweet spot is finding adventurous things,” Finch said, pointing to shows such as Hunting Evidence, Finding Beasts and Lost Gold. “These amazing exploration-mystery shows are really resonating with Travel viewers and we’ve got a bunch more that we’ll be premiering in 2018.”

Those shows should resonate with advertisers as well.

Another piece of research for Scripps used neuroscience to measure the impact of advertising and media. In the study, viewers were shown the same spots from all of the major ad categories in different genres of programming. The result: When ads were shown in lifestyle programming, engagement was 81% higher.

TV watchers often say they hate advertising, but to Scripps viewers, it’s a positive part of the experience, Steinlauf said.

“The ads are for companies who in many cases are aligned closely to the content, so there’s this seamlessness to the content experience and the advertising experience where they help each other; they complement each other,” he said, comparing HGTV and Food Network to glossy magazines such as Vogue and Architectural Digest.

“The ads are so important to the experience that people actually felt that they were buying the magazines for the ads as well as for the content and the editorial,” Steinlauf said. “I feel the same way about our channels, that the advertising experience is a very healthy one.”

Jon Lafayette
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.