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To Goose TV Audience, Scripps Uses the Web

Short Videos Related to Shows Make It Online, But Programs Remain On Boob Tube

By Published on . 2

The people behind Food Network and HGTV would rather hack off their fingers than allow current episodes of "Chopped" to surface online -- even if today's TV audiences have a taste for it.

HGTV's 'Flea Market Flip'
HGTV's 'Flea Market Flip'

To satisfy their appetites -- and still preserve the quality of their programs' TV ratings -- executives at Scripps Networks Interactive are reviving an old-school idea: They're creating ancillary material related to their viewers' favorite programs and making it available for web viewing and mobile use, while keeping the program itself in its original boob-tube environs.

With so many TV shows being made available for online streaming, viewers "could stray and go someplace else," said Kathleen Finch, general manager of Scripps's HGTV and DIY cable outlets, "and we don't want them to."

Indeed, Scripps has good reason not to dish out too much of its TV content in other arenas: The company is in the midst of hyping its viewers' tendencies to watch its programs live, rather than on a delayed basis. And the quality of those ratings has become important in recent weeks, according to Wall Street analysts, who note ratings at Food Network were weak in the fourth quarter and that so-called "scatter" pricing, or the cost of ad inventory sold on an as-needed basis, has been weaker than the norm at the company's holdings. Making "Chopped" or "House Hunters" or anything else available digitally while the company still uses TV ratings to derive the larger part of its revenue might be considered folly.

"We want to enhance" both TV and online, "as opposed to taking away from our potential linear ratings of 'Chopped' or any other asset," said Jon Steinlauf, senior VP-advertising sales at Scripps. Several of these content ideas will be up for sale as the company meets with advertisers later this spring as part of the annual upfront, the late-spring sessions where TV outlets attempt to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season.

At HGTV, Scripps is preparing the March launch of a digital short-form video strategy around "Flea Market Flip," a yard-sale competition series hosted by "Good Morning America's" Lara Spencer. The series centers on people who buy flotsam and jetsam at yard sales, then attempt to transform them into something new and original. The "how to" of the process is glossed over in the program itself, so Scripps makes that available via short-form video online. "Catch up" stories are available online for "House Hunters" and "Income Property." The online videos check back in on the homeowners six to 12 months later to see if they are happy with the decisions they made.

In the second quarter, Scripps is set to launch a series of "five to eight mini-segments" for "Chopped," said Mr. Steinlauf, in which the judges get their own crack at turning the basket featured in each episode into something edible and palatable.

Executives at the company wanted to create something more directly connected to individual programs, rather than simply loading up the sites with more videos of chefs working out recipes. "A lot of people go to FoodNetwork.com to see recipes," said Mr. Steinlauf, "but in this case we're taking it more toward how does the linear audience continue that experience directly after the show ends?"

Scripps does run some of its programming online, but not stuff that is currently on the air. Some current-season material could surface when deals the company has struck for "TV Everywhere" -- or the availability of current content to those viewers who already pay a subscription for TV -- are expected to start later in 2013. According to a company spokesman, Scripps views the catch-up videos and other short-form material as being more "additive" to the experience consumers have in watching their favorite shows.

To be sure, Scripps isn't the only media entity grappling with how to please audiences eager to skip from a TV screen to a mobile tablet without losing the view that generates the most revenue. At CBS Corp., executives largely refrain from making current-season episodes available online on outside venues (of course, you can catch a recent episode of "The Good Wife" on CBS.com). In a turnabout from that policy, the company's broadcast network recently said it would allow episodes of coming summer miniseries "Under The Dome" to run on Amazon.com's streaming service -- a nod to the fact the series is limited and does not have a long life on the network's own air.

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