TLC Trades Up to Elite Rating Space

Triggered by the strength of Trading Spaces, TLC has quietly become one of cable's best primetime ratings draws.

Relying mostly on nonfictional fare, the network has quickly dispelled one of the industry's longstanding myths: Only scripted programming and theatrical movies can consistently deliver strong ratings.

Looking to continue its momentum, the network will boost its original programming budget in 2003 to create several "lifestyles-formatted" series to complement the Trading Spaces
franchise, said vice president of programming Roger Marmet, who also serves as acting general manager. Jana Bennett left that post this past spring.

In October, TLC finished in tenth place with a 1.1 Nielsen Media Research household rating. Its 22 percent ratings increase over the 2001 period marked the largest gain of any top-10 service that month.

Riding a hit

Much of the network's rating success can be attributed to the runaway appeal of Trading Spaces. The show's Oct. 12 episode — which posted a 4.0 rating — was last month's highest-rated entertainment series. Further, three of the skein's episodes ranked among cable's top 25 primetime shows in October.

"Trading Spaces
is obviously fueling a lot of that growth in fringe and primetime," Marmet said. "On Saturday nights, Trading Spaces
consistently places among the top three highest-rated shows among 18-to-49 and 25-to-54-year-old viewers, on both cable and broadcast."

But it's not the network's only draw. Since its debut in September, While U Were Out,
following a pair of Trading Spaces
has become an immediate hit on Saturday nights at 10 p.m., according to Marmet. He calls the series an "entertainment show that happens to have design in it."

The two primetime shows are examples of the network's desire to offer compelling nonfiction programming with an entertainment feel, under the tagline "Life unscripted." That credo is on display through such daytime shows such as Wedding Story, Baby Story
and Dating Story, as well as more intense reality programming like Trauma — Life In The ER
and Junkyard Wars.

"What our ratings tells us is that there is a place for a channel that's very broad, but that doesn't have to pile on another [scripted] drama or movie of the week," Marmet said. "Taking off-network dramas is a great thing for a cable channel because you have name recognition, but we think we can continue to grow based on the success that we're having and the huge numbers of viewers that we have coming in."

More series coming

But the network won't sit on its laurels. Armed with an unspecified programming budget increase for 2003, TLC hopes to grow its audiences by launching several new series next year.

In 2003, TLC will offer its takes on two British Broadcasting Corp. series. What Not to Wear
— a show in which unsuspecting people will receive a complete fashion overhaul — will debut in March, while Faking It, in which people are forced to bluff their way though jobs and experiences they are not trained for, will premiere later in the year.

"I think we're also going to launch another medical reality strand," Marmet added. "We're continuing to look for shows that are unique and break new ground."

TLC will keep Trading Spaces
fresh by employing specials and stunts, said Marmet. The show will originate live from Las Vegas in January, and also feature a Web component allowing viewers to participate.

The BBC version

On Nov. 28, the network will pair Trading Spaces
episodes with its BBC-produced forerunner, Changing Rooms, on Nov. 28. Trading Spaces
celebrity specials are also on tap for next year.

"Every show has a different set of designers going off against each other," Marmet said.

"We're in different cities, and we can continue to do different houses. The live Las Vegas show is really a great way to bring more immediacy to the jeopardy inherent in every episode of Trading Spaces."

While shows such Trading Spaces
skew female, Marmet said that the network's male viewership is up in all of its key demos for the year, noting that Junkyard Wars
and Full Metal Challenge
have attracted heavy male audiences.

"By airing those shows on Wednesday and Thursday nights, strategically it works for us because the broadcast networks primarily draws female viewers during those days," Marmet said.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.