The Venue: Chelsea Market, New York
Key Execs: Steven J. Gigliotti, exec VP-national ad sales, Scripps Networks; Jeff Meyer, senior VP-interactive sales; Karen Grinthal, senior VP-ad sales, Food Network and Fine Living; Michael Pardee, senior VP-research, Scripps Networks
The Networks: The self-proclaimed leader in lifestyle media's "life to the fifth power" networks are HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, Fine Living and Great American Country.
The Food: Despite being host to the Food Network, Scripps was serving up a relatively small variety of hors d'oeuvres by the time we arrived during the event's second half. We could've gone for a Paula Deen cream puff or some pasta from Giada De Laurentiis.
The Drinks: What Scripps lacked in cuisine, it made up for in booze. Scripps served up a quintet of mixed drinks branded to match the colors of the five networks on display. Our faves: the orange "Jack Splash" with bourbon, amaretto and pineapple juice, and the green-tinted "Jade Paradise" comprising rum, triple sec and lime juice.
The Ratings Game: HGTV and Food are the company's two major players, ranking No. 20 and 22, respectively, among adults 25-54 in prime time in 2006. DIY sits at No. 63 in the same demo and daypart, benefiting from carriage gains and established hits such as "This Old House" and "Bob Vila's Home Again." GAC is close behind Viacom's CMT as the No. 2 country-music channel, while Fine Living recently underwent a programming rebrand that will be fleshed out further in 2007.
The Digital Play: The Scripps networks have seen the most growth online, where ad revenue has doubled in the last three upfront periods. Food and HGTV have highly visible broadband, VOD and HD channels that helped them score highest in a recent Simmons ad-receptivity study.
The Programming Slate: Food continues to excel at making celebrities out of chefs such as Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Paula Deen, and shepherded Rachael Ray's successful trip to syndication in 2005. The 2007 lineup includes returning hits such as "The Next Food Network Star" and "Iron Chef," as well as the new "Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives," premiering April 23, and "Food Dudes," starting in the fall. HGTV, meanwhile, is adding former TLC interior designer Vern Yip and celebrity carpenter Carter Oosterhouse to its string of personality-driven programming this fall. It also has a hit in "Design Star," which will return for a second season July 29.
We were impressed by the colored lighting at Nickelodeon's orange-and-green upfront last week in Times Square, but Scripps offered up brand identity in a format even more palatable to sales execs and media buyers alike: booze. A roundup of five mixed drinks colored to match Scripps' "life to the fifth power" lifestyle networks proved too tempting for many revelers to resist. Attendees were also treated to schmoozing opportunities with HGTV's newest stars, Vern Yip and Carter Oosterhouse, and 17-year-old breakout singer Taylor Swift in Great American Country's corner.
In an upfront season that's focused heavily on engagement metrics and ad recall, Scripps has quietly positioned itself among the leaders in driving retail incentives among viewers. Karen Grinthal, senior VP-ad sales at Food Network, pointed to a recent study the network commissioned with Simmons Research that found Food led in ad receptivity on all platforms, with non-Scripps nets such as BET, Travel and Style scoring surprisingly high in the study as well.
With digital expected to play a larger part in this year's upfront while maintaining a modest 10% share of total ad spend, look for Ms. Grinthal and her boss, Steven Gigliotti, to continue their successful formula of brand association for authoritative programming without blatant product placement.
With cablers veering between two extremes in their presentations this year -- opting for either large-scale programming events or intimate meetings with media and clients -- we're glad Scripps found a middle ground between wining and dining and valuable conversations with clients. Still, we would've loved to indulge in a little gourmet cooking from one of Food's many celeb chefs. Could a move to Mario Batali's neighboring Chelsea bistro, Del Posto, be on the menu for next year?