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TLC Analysis - December 2009


* Bold denotes programming change


TLC, which has seldom done topical specials got fantastic numbers with two recently - one about the amazing, all-souls-saved Hudson River crash landing and the other about Tiger Woods' scandalous private life in the wake of his Thanksgiving auto accident. It's hard to imagine that on the heels of these successes execs at TLC aren't talking about getting more into the pipeline.  The schedule tends toward stacking by theme or editorial sensibility, rather than by title alone. They do not strip. Only one night is reliably themed: Turbo Thursdays are very male - AMERICAN CHOPPER and BBQ PITMASTERS dominate there, at the moment.  Weekends carry mostly one-off hours, off-network newsmagazine reversions and, most recently a few specials.


Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / December 2009 vs. December 2008  (% Change)

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

December was a rough and odd month at TLC. Month-to-month the network fell HH 13% and it was off 3% year-to-year. But the story behind those headline numbers - and one that's surely on the minds of  network executives - is in the sexes. In both month-to-months and in yearly comparisons, TLC's relative rates of growth are much stronger among men than women.  Compared to November, younger and older men were -4% and +4%, respectively. Hardly noteworthy, except that in the same period and categories, women were  -19% and -18%.  Yearly numbers show the same relative pattern, but here women were nearly flat (F18-49 +2%, F25-54-2%), while men were way up - M18-49 +14%, M25-54 +17%.

This network spent a number of years re-branding itself to attract women. Is this trend toward men intentional? Is there a subtle re-re brand underway? Is it meant to make room for the parent's company's joint venture Oprah Winfrey Network network?  Or, is this just a really interesting trend, the kind that comes along now and then, that a network has to correct?

Nothing illustrated the male trend at TLC better than the premier of the very heavily promoted BBQ PITMASTERS.  Ratings for men of both age groups more than doubled while women were slightly below average. Two interesting trends within: Numbers from week one to week two were close - a very slight drop. But on week three, all groups had fallen off by amounts that probably raised some eyebrows. We're not going to pay any attention to the miserable week four numbers, because it was 10pm on Christmas Eve. Interestingly, while this show appeals to more women than men, the week three drop-off was much slighter among women. Hmmm...

The month's top title? THE SECRET LIFE OF TIGER WOODS, a reversion, with added material, of a DATELINE NBC special. TLC aired it twice, and both outings made the network's top twenty episodes list (#1 and #17).  It did better with women, but not wildly so.  It's an unusual sort of show for TLC - a topical special. Though this is an unusually juicy story, the good numbers might suggest TLC will consider looking for more. Indies beware, however: this kind of program is tough to make both appealing and cost effective without a network news division's already paid for video archives.

Little people reigned again in December. Nine of TLC's top twenty episodes featured their lives, under several titles. Newest, and best-performing, was LITTLE CHOCOLATIERS, a premier of a limited series that appears to blend elements of CAKE BOSS and LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG WORLD - a little people husband and wife run a custom chocolate shop in Salt Lake City. It bested network HH average by 30%. It was more than twice as popular with women as with men.

Also getting heavy play: SAY YES TO THE DRESS, which, with 15 primetime outings, performed just slightly above HH average. CAKE BOSS played 14 times, right at the network's HH average.  18 KIDS AND COUNTING performed about 15% above HH average with seven telecasts. Yet another repeat of KATE: HER STORY did quite well, besting HH average by almost 40%.

Two episodes of the four part GHOST INTERVENTION premiered back-to-back on a Saturday night and delivered well below average numbers in all categories, and below HH averages for other titles in the same slots on the other three Saturdays.


If this network has had a very, very wild ride in the last 12 months, it's only stronger for it. They rode the JON & KATE PLUS 8 bucking bronco for all it was worth - and as measured by ratings alone, it was worth a lot. While the schedule was an unpredictable mess for a while (it sometimes felt like Jon & Kate & Whatever Else We Have Lying Around), it turns out some solid series were developing or coming into themselves at the same time.  18 KIDS AND COUNTING, LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG WORLD and CAKE BOSS.  Character-driven family and ensemble casts are in favor here. You'll notice many series are structured to work without a narrator, but this does not suggest lazy production. Good episodes of any of TLC's successful series are driven by very solid, logical, emotional storytelling. An executive with highly respected scheduling skills and development instincts joined upper management here recently. Executives at this network will know what they want, and have a well above average ability to articulate this. Seek them out. Trust what they say. Watch their air carefully. Better still, follow them closely, right here!