HGTV Is Stalking New Viewers for 'House Hunters'

Unusual Marketing Blitz for Show That's a Decade Old

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NEW YORK ( -- The appetite for buying new homes has cooled since the white-hot housing bubble, but perhaps consumer interest in shows about home buying doesn't have to decline in step.

HGTV has 'wrapped' a Times Square Shuttle subway train in New York City in advertising for 'House Hunters.'
HGTV has 'wrapped' a Times Square Shuttle subway train in New York City in advertising for 'House Hunters.'
So goes the thinking, and hoping, at cable's HGTV, which is promoting its decade-old series "House Hunters" with advertising that for the first time appears somewhere other than the channel itself. While most TV networks put the bulk of their marketing dollars behind new programs and special events, HGTV parent Scripps Networks Interactive will put almost $6 million to advertise a program -- and a sibling show, "House Hunters International" -- that have been around for a while.

While each program draws an average of more than 1 million viewers, the original show, like the houses it sometimes features, has shown signs of being, well, "lived in."

"House Hunters International" has seen audiences increase. The show secured an average of about 1.37 million viewers between Sept. 28, 2009, and Sept 7, 2010, compared with approximately 1.21 million for a similar period in 2006 and 2007, according to Nielsen. But the original "House Hunters" has in prime time drawn an average of around 1.37 million viewers between late September 2009 and early September 2010, compared to an average of approximately 1.5 million viewers in the 2006-2007 season.

Even with the decline at the original show, the programs' durability and performance offer reason to do more with them, said Lori Asbury, SVP for marketing, creative and brand strategy at HGTV. The shows "have proven to be independent of any volatility in the economy or housing market," she said. "We've seen it sustain itself in the housing slump."

HGTV sees opportunity to increase viewership for both shows, said Ms. Asbury. Research shows "50% of all people that watch television have heard of 'House Hunters,' but then 50% haven't," she explained. "We think that his show has a great potential to reach out to newer audiences that may not have sampled."

"We think we have the opportunity to expose the show to that demographic that may not be watching the network as much," she added.

To get the word out, HGTV is running print, out of home, cinema, national cable and spot cable advertising. Sister cable outlets Food Network, Travel Channel and Great American Country will also promote the show. Riders of the Times Square Shuttle subway train in New York City may have noticed one of the cars is "wrapped" in advertising for the programs. The campaign coincides with the availability of new episodes each night of both "House Hunters" and "House Hunters International" during prime time on HGTV.

Executives hope to grow HGTV's key audience, women between the ages of 25 to 54, by getting them to watch the housing shows and then expose them to some of the channel's newer offerings. The catchphrase being used in the campaign is "You Know You Want To Look" -- a reference to the fact the show opens doors to other people's homes.

This kind of ramp-up for a long-running program is somewhat unusual. Long-running shows often speak for themselves, so the thinking goes, so there's less reason to spend millions of dollars promoting them. Fox has in recent years taken steps to promote the long-running "House," but many networks place their September focus on a handful of new programs that have generated little awareness beyond hard-core fans.

HGTV has been planning the blitz for some time, said Jim Samples, president of the cable network. "This is something we've been talking about for a year or so," he said. Even though the programs have portrayed "the experiences of more than 1,000 families through more than 3,000 homes," executives don't feel the programs have reached their fullest audience yet.

As such, they represent an anamoly on the channel's schedule. Mr. Samples said most shows last from five to seven seasons. "That's a good run," he added.

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