NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A year ago, Scripps Networks Interactive was the lone bright spot in the increasingly troubled E.W. Scripps Company. But now that the downsized newspaper division has split off from the cable networks into two separately traded companies, Scripps Networks Interactive has continued to thrive, despite unique market challenges.
For example, HGTV, the company's flagship cable network, saw solid ratings and viewership in the first half of 2008, despite a tightening housing market. "People still tend to want to watch programs about housing. They love to watch other homes vicariously on TV, and we don't see that abating going into 2009," Ken Lowe, chairman, president-CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive, said at the UBS 36th Annual Global Media and Communications Conference in New York.
One of the few shows General Motors has not eliminated from its 2009 media plan is its sponsorship of HGTV's "Dream Home Giveaway," which will return for its second season in first-quarter 2009.
The rest of HGTV's 2009 programming slate will come equipped with a recession-adjusted slant. "The Unsellables," for example, will teach homeowners with cluttered living spaces how to get their houses off the market. "Income Property" focuses on new homeowners looking to spruce up their spaces for additional residents to help make mortgage ends meet. And "Bang For Your Buck" is a competition that pits couples against each other to see who can renovate their home the best within a $50,000 budget.
Scripps' other well-performing cable channel, Food Network, is also finishing up a strong 2008, having lowered its median prime-time age to 41 on the strength of new young-skewing series such as "Food Detectives," "Ace of Cakes" and "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." Advertising remains healthy for Food Network, as 45% of its revenues come from relatively strong categories including consumer package-goods, food and retail.
Online, however, is a slightly different story, as FoodNetwork.com's ad revenues have started to contract due to the economy and Scripps' strategic shift away from relying on search-engine marketing ads from Google. "The internet seems to still be considered in many circles experimental," Mr. Lowe said.
Food Network still on top
Market weakness aside, FoodNetwork.com still outperformed its ad dollars for the first nine months of 2008 over the same period in 2007, logging $57 million in online dollars vs. $52 million the year prior.
FoodNetwork.com remains the internet's top-rated food site, with 8.6 million monthly unique visitors, according to Nielsen NetRatings. HGTV.com is also a market leader, with the fourth highest traffic volume in the home and garden category. FrontDoor.com, an HGTV spinoff site launched in late 2007, has become a modest player, attracting 406,000 unique visitors in October 2008.
Despite a profitable 2008, Mr. Lowe and Joe NeCastro, Scripps Networks Interactive's chief financial officer, were hard pressed to make similarly bullish projections for the first half of 2009. "We've seen relatively modest cancellations in the first half of the year, and our calendar year upfront was a pretty weak. There's going to be a lot available in scatter," Mr. NeCastro said.