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Scripps’ Script: Synergy Sells

Last year, when E.W. Scripps Co.’s Food Network was about to
launch Iron Chef America, the company put
together all of its marketing pieces. Instead of giving the show a promo nudge,
Scripps decided to give it a great big push.

Ten of Scripps’ broadcast stations aired spots promoting the show
and ran sneak peeks and contests during morning shows. Scripps’ cable
networks ran up to 18 spots a day for the show and teased it in their online
newsletters, reaching some 3 million subscribers apiece. Scripps’
newspapers featured the show on the covers of their TV-book inserts.

The premiere was a smash, with more than 2.3 million viewers. It quickly
became Food’s highest-rated regularly scheduled program. It also earned
a 1.0 rating with males 18-49, a demo Food Network wants. That success helped
lower Food’s median male viewing age to 43.5 during second quarter 2004,
down from 45.4 last year.

Scripps Networks President John Lansing, a veteran broadcaster and news
director relatively new to the cable game, says successfully managing Scripps
Networks—the name for the company’s cable properties—comes
down to two things: “Long-term planning and being nimble.”

To succeed, Scripps relies on using all of its weapons and is one place
where synergy isn’t just a consultant’s buzzword. Says Lansing,
“A media company with a variety of assets really needs to know how those
assets can work together to create incremental value overall.” And
Scripps tends to get the full value of its promotional dollar to push its six
cable networks: Home and Garden Television; Food Network; DIY (Do-It-Yourself);
Fine Living; Shop At Home, which it bought in 2003; and Great American Country,
which it acquired last November. (Scripps also runs five Shop At Home broadcast

The parent company is riding high on those cable properties. Last week,
when E.W. Scripps Co. announced strong second-quarter results, the cable
division was the star of the show. Ad revenues of $202 million were up 28% from
the same time last year; revenue from affiliates gained 18% to $39.6

Credit synergy and savvy marketing. Scripps began producing local
half-hour versions of DIY for its TV stations and now syndicates the network
nationwide. KNXV Phoenix and WPTV West Palm Beach, Fla., are also taste-testing
Food Network fare for syndication. The Scripps stations are taking old library
shows from their corporate cousin and running them as a weekday strip,
Calling All Cooks. If this clicks, “it could reduce
our need for syndicated programming,” says Bill Peterson, VP of
Scripps’ television stations. Food and HGTV own the rights to most of
their shows, meaning they can cut and re-cut library content at little

The audience for Food Network, which has 87.5 million subscribers, is
21% higher in cities where Scripps owns a TV station. HGTV does 23% better in
Scripps markets than it does nationwide, where it averages a 0.81 Nielsen
household rating. In Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., for example, where Scripps
owns WFTS, HGTV delivers a 1.46.

Scripps is careful with its cross-promotion, particularly when station
news operations are involved. Most Scripps cable content that airs on the
stations’ newscasts flows through WCPO Cincinnati News Director Bob
Morford. He produces those packages and feeds them to the other nine stations.
Morford says a news element is required: “It has to be produced to
newsroom standards. I don’t want anything to come off as a commercial
for HGTV.”

Scripps’ script wasn’t scribbled on a napkin. Last August,
it launched an internal strategic-planning committee to prioritize assets
across all its properties—newspapers, broadcast stations, Internet and
news services—and figure out how to best leverage them through
cross-promotion. Marketing group Promax lauded Scripps with a Brand Builder
award last month.

“It’s not just that you have assets; it’s
what’s the smartest way to use them,” says the strategic
group’s head, VP, Promotions Strategy, Jeffrey Kissinger, a veteran of
cross-promoting from his days of marketing CNN through Ted Turner’s
other networks.

Most of Scripps’ networks harmonize with each other. HGTV, Food
Network, DIY and Fine Living all center on lifestyle programming; they air
about 570 hours of design/decorating, gardening, food and travel, and other
content in the genre each week. Its newest networks, Shop At Home, with 55
million subscribers, and Great American Country (GAC), fit into the plan, too.
GAC seems like an odd duck, but even there, country-music stars hawk goods. But
it is HGTV and the Food Network that can really capitalize on Shop At Home.

Case in point: Reporting second-quarter earnings, E. W. Scripps Co. CEO
Ken Lowe raved about celebrity chef and Food Network host Emeril Lagasse. When
Lagasse appeared on Shop At Home on July 16 to hawk kitchen goods, the
five-hour live special helped sell almost 6,000 units, with 73% of weekend
sales in the category coming from new customers. A full 45% of Shop At Home
sales that day came from Lagasse’s segment.

The wildly popular chef will contribute to two more Shop At Home
specials, airing in September and November. A twice-weekly show featuring goods
he selected started last Wednesday.

Now Scripps is implementing the strategy to promote such shows as
HGTV’s series Redesign on other networks and to
streamline the consumer-products sales on its Web sites, eventually migrating
items from all the networks onto the single Shop At Home site.

Cross-promotion will come into play when Scripps launches two hi-def
networks, slated for 2006, and introduces highly targeted broadband channels,
the first two of which will focus on kitchen and DIY-related content.

There’s a mess of tinkering yet to do. GAC, with 37 million
subscribers, is focusing on rebranding, freshening its look without alienating
the network’s core fan base. It is also moving from Denver to
country-music mecca Nashville, Tenn.

DIY, the Scripps network with the largest Web following (some 2 million
unique visitors each month, a big number for a network in just 33 million
homes), is pushing its how-to TV into new categories, such as crafts, hobbies
and pets. (It plans a show called Barkitecture, about
dog-house design.)

And Shop At Home, after focusing on tweaking production values, will
continue migrating from traditional shopping-channel categories like jewelry
and coins to the lifestyle categories featured on its other networks.

Scripps’ cable success may be an example of necessity as the
mother of invention. Like other old-line publishing companies, last decade,
Scripps recognized that newspapers’ days of growth were long gone and
that TV stations weren’t growing much either. New cable retransmission
rules gave broadcasters the power to demand compensation from cable operators
who refused to pay cash but were willing to offer carriage of any new cable
networks a broadcaster might start. In 1994, Scripps started HGTV and later
invested with other broadcasters (including Tribune and Providence Journal Co.)
in Food Network.

The cable networks have been so successful they are now driving the
company. Morgan Stanley analyst Doug Arthur estimates that cable networks will
generate 53% of Scripps’ $2.4 billion in revenues this year and 54% of
its $692 million in operating cash flow.

Despite a dip in HGTV’s ratings, cable revenues should jump 25%
and cash flow around 23% this year. Lowe says a recent $500 million deal to buy
Internet price-search engine Shopzilla similarly fits in with the other Scripps

On a recent conference call with investors, Lowe said, “If you
look at the history with this company, especially in the past 20 years, it has
been an evolving strategic decision to move on to other platforms.”