Hallmark TV Deal Over, Martha Stewart Shifts to Digital Video

MSLO Rethinks Distribution, Content Creation as DIY Thrives Online

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Martha Stewart is moving from the living room to the third screen.

Her contract with Hallmark Channel expired, the domestic doyenne is staking her future on digital video, tablets and mobile as it's becoming apparent that DIY content is better suited to an on-demand environment.

Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart

"Martha's content lends itself well to tablets," said Cameron Yuill, founder of AdGent Digital. "How-to content lives better digitally ... because you want to access it when you need it."

The charge to grow the company's digital-distribution relationships and revamp the way it creates content is being led by Lisa Gersh, who joined Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in 2011 as chief operating officer and became CEO in July. To start off, Ms. Gersh has signed nonexclusive partnerships with Hulu and AOL to distribute new and archived Martha Stewart Living videos.

Hulu is launching three MSLO channels: Martha's Kitchen , Emeril's Table and DIY Crafts, with the option of rolling out more. "Hulu gives us the ability to attract a younger audience and makes our programming available on demand, where it should live," Ms. Gersh said.

Added Andy Forssell, senior VP-content at Hulu, "It's not like younger viewers don't know who she is , but they may not have watched her before."

MSLO has also struck a deal with Fullscreen, a shop that helps brands build their presence on YouTube.

Until now, all the digital video featuring the DIY maven had been culled from highlights of long-form episodes, but MSLO is filming a short-form series starring Ms. Stewart.

The shift seemed logical to Ms. Stewart, 71, who has adopted mobile technology for both her personal and professional life. "I'm constantly using my three handheld devices/smartphones to talk, look up information and tweet," she said via email. "I love social media because I can get great, instant feedback and stay in touch with a broad audience."

The question, however, is whether Ms. Stewart can compete against the plethora of professional and amateur how-to online videos and whether her image will translate onto digital media.

Though she's dominated the lifestyle category with TV shows to coffee-table tomes to consumer products, her company has struggled, reporting losses in eight of the nine past years. And Ms. Gersh said during the most recent earnings call that a return to the black might take longer than expected.

"The internet thrives on imperfection and improvisation," said marketing expert Adam Hanft.

With Martha, "every petal of every rose needs to sit perfectly. Julia Child would have been better on the internet ... The classic moment when she drops the chicken on the floor fits perfectly with the internet's idea of approachability."

But Ms. Stewart says her brand is growing among younger viewers, citing ComScore data that show her 18-to-34 digital audience up 40% over last year.

"There's lots of so-called how-to information out there, but much of it does not demonstrate the level of expertise, trusted content or the good production values offered by Martha Stewart Living," Ms. Stewart said.

Though Ms. Stewart is abandoning ad-supported TV, she can still be found on PBS this fall in a new series, "Cooking School." The show will be filmed sans a live audience but with an eye for broadcasts on the living-room screen as well as clips for the web and other digital platforms, Ms. Gersh said.

"We are in constant conversations about other TV possibilities," Ms. Gersh said.

"What we are trying to emphasize is that it should no longer be called TV or broadcast but video that can play anywhere."

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