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True Crime Steals Viewers for Advertisers

CRIME PAYS when it comes to networks and advertisers looking to reach female viewers.

ID: Investigation Discovery, with true-crime focused programming including Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda, Is O.J. Innocent: The Missing Evidence, Murder Calls and Evil Lives Here, was the No. 1 cable network for women 25-54 in January.

Primetime ratings were up 9% among women 25-54 and 13% among women 18-49.

ID’s growth since its launch nine years ago has made it increasingly attractive to advertisers. With the upfront market — a time when cable networks sell more than half of their commercial inventory — approaching, ID is also drawing new competition, notably from Comcast’s NBCUniversal, which said in February that its Oxygen network will become a crime destination network for women, featuring new programming from Law & Order creator Dick Wolf.

“I think they’ve seen the success we’ve had from both a ratings and an [advertiser] demand perspective,” Scott Kohn, senior vice president for ad sales at Discovery Communications, said. “I think it really shows how hot this genre is.”


Kohn’s not scared of NBCU. “We’ve had a very big head start in this space,” he said. “It’s not a surprise they’re coming to the genre. Obviously we wish them success, but I think we’re focusing on what we do best.”

Since ID’s launch, Discovery has had to educate buyers on the brand and audience it delivers.

“We have the longest length of tune-in in all of television, which obviously is really important to our advertisers, because it means that people are watching their commercials,” Kohn said. In January, women 24-54 watching ID tuned in for an average of 34 minutes, the longest in ad supported cable.

“And we have research and data that shows that the people who watch our commercials believe in the advertising more. So it’s actually a really good platform to showcase your commercial messaging.”

ID overindexes among consumers interested in the automotive, banking, insurance and pharmaceutical categories, according to data from MRI.

The network also has research that shows that ID viewers are social. “They’re going to online to share their reviews of products and they’re more likely to say that the ads are relevant to them,” Kohn said. “Our viewers click on ads they see on social and news sites at a higher percentage than other female competitors.”

ID’s gross ad revenue rose 5% to $348.4 million in 2016, according to SNL Kagan. Kagan projects that ID’s ad revenue will grow 12% to $389.9 million in 2017.

That ad growth is somewhat surprising, because not long ago, many advertisers didn’t see lurid true-crime programming as the best environment for their brand messages.

“I think we’ve proved the value of the audience,” Kohn said. “I think you can say this is one of the hottest genres in entertainment, and we think we do it better than anybody else.”

Brian Hughes, senior vice president of audience intelligence & strategy at media agency Magna, said true crime doesn’t have the stigma among advertisers it used to.

“I would agree that the stance seems to have softened a bit,” Hughes said.

The genre has enjoyed a pop-culture resurgence with the hype surrounding the podcast Serial and the Netflix series Making of a Murderer. “I think with the TV business, you typically see if something’s working, everybody wants to get a piece of it,” he said.

Hughes also confirmed that advertisers like networks like ID that have a long length of tune-in. “We do feel it’s definitely an indicator that they’re more engaged,” he said. “They’re probably more interested. We look at that and a few other indicators to get a sense of where we think people are paying the most attention.”

NBCU has taken similar notice of the true crime genre’s attraction. Executive vice president for ad sales Laura Molen noted that Oxygen has aired Snapped for 14 years, making it the longest-running reality crime show on cable and one that “consistently delivers a female skewing audience that tends to be more engaged than the average women.”


That passionate female viewer stays tuned in: more than a half-hour — including commercials — per session, Molen said. She said Oxygen’s shift to true crime has been well received by advertisers.

“Most advertisers on Oxygen are in Snapped,” she said. “If there was a question, we sat down with them and took a look at the programming. When they saw how we handle the genre, they were fine with it.”

The new Oxygen shows will also be high-quality products. “They’re big-buzz programs that provide a good environment that allows advertisers to get a return on their ad spend,” Molen said.

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.