Marketers feel at home in shelter TV

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A quick scroll through the TV lineup reveals that programs about the home are building fast.

Not only are there whole networks serving this niche, but in February a shelter-themed show premiered for the first time on national broadcast prime-time TV with ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

On cable, Discovery Communications' Discovery Home & Leisure network was slated last month to reacquaint itself with viewers as Discovery Home Channel. And if the definition of "shelter" is expanded beyond the structure itself, Scripps Networks approaches it from several paths with DIY-Do It Yourself Network, Home & Garden Television, Fine Living and Food Network. DIY alone now reaches 26.6 million households. And pushing ahead into its niche, Scripps in the next six months plans to introduce about 70 new series and specials across its four lifestyle brands.

Shelter TV programming can be particularly appealing to advertisers in the home category since it affords them a chance to more closely align thematically with content that matches their brands. Also, many shelter shows are natural fits for product integration. Home Depot, for instance, is the exclusive category sponsor for TLC's "Trading Spaces" and provides products and materials for projects.

environment that makes sense

Advertisers want their brands to be in an environment that makes sense, says Tim Spengler, exec VP-director of national broadcast for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media, New York. "There is more of a focus on the home than there was 10 years ago," he notes.

The programming swell is caused by several factors. The cocooning trend wrought by 9/11 still lingers, and low interest rates arrived in a timely fashion to herald a boom in home sales and remodeling.

The shelter programming niche was born a quarter-century ago when "This Old House" with Bob Vila debuted on the Public Broadcasting Service. More recently, the how-to home-improvement genre starting mating with the reality craze to create a new hybrid-the fix-up contests dotting the dial, sort of "Survivor" meets "This Old House." They've broadened the shelter genre beyond its do-it-yourself roots.

Like so many other Anglo-American transplants, the U.K.'s "Changing Rooms" inspired a U.S. iteration in "Trading Spaces."

Discovery Communications' TLC last month kicked off the fourth season of "Trading Spaces," and this latter-day "This Old House" has spurred additional shelter TV shows. With Paige Davis in Mr. Vila's role as foreman, and homeowners toiling over two-day, $1,000 remodelings of neighbors' houses, the results of "Trading Spaces" projects are sometimes outrageous. But the show generated siblings "While You Were Out," "Trading Spaces: Family," "Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls" and "Trading Spaces: Home Free," plus a fan base.

Shelter TV was in full boom, generating other cable fare like Discovery Channel's "Monster House" (offspring of the auto-themed "Monster Garage") and "MTV Cribs" on the youth-oriented network owned by Viacom. "Changing Rooms" is also in the fray via BBC America, along with "House Invaders."

Mr. Vila left PBS in 1989 and Viacom-owned syndicator King World Productions debuted "Bob Vila's Home Again" (see Q&A with Mr. Vila on opposite page). Also in syndication, Tribune Entertainment offers "Famous Homes & Hideaways" and "Ron Hazelton's House Calls."

ABC's introduction of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" serves as the broadcast seal of approval on the shelter genre. The March 7 airing was the second highest-rated show for the first week of March on the Walt Disney Co.-owned network, and drew 10.2 million viewers, delivering a 3.9 rating and 10 share in adults 18-49, according to Nielsen Media Research data provided by ABC.

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" is a cross between a reality program and a home improvement show, says Geri Wong, senior VP for prime-time TV at ABC. The program revamps homes for "deserving families" such as the debut episode in November centering on a couple whose young daughter battled cancer.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. is the exclusive home-improvement advertiser for "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," and its Craftsman tools are featured prominently during renovations. A new kitchen or laundry might also include Sears' Kenmore appliances, says John Caruso, senior VP-TV network sales at ABC. The show gives Sears visibility and recall far beyond what a 30-second spot might provide.

Sears is partnering with both ABC for "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and with Discovery Home Channel as the sponsor for one of its theme nights.

`a category we should own'

"It's a category we can and should own," says Ted McDougal, a spokesman for Sears. Because the Sears deal with ABC is wide-ranging and expands beyond traditional product placement to encompass the whole show and the Sears and ABC Web sites as well, it furthers Sears' goal to portray itself as the ultimate home solutions provider, Mr. McDougal says.

The broader entertainment appeal of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" has also lured automotive, package-goods and personal-care advertisers.

Shelter shows usually come without the salacious undertones or "ick" factor of some other reality fare. The non-controversial and targeted nature of home content is part of its appeal to marketers, says David Karp, senior VP-general manager for Discovery Home Channel, which planned to introduce its new name and logo on March 29. With the new name comes a more defined and precise focus on the home through programming theme nights and a dumping of broader lifestyle topics like travel shows.

As part of the facelift, the network intended to tag each weeknight with a theme and sponsor, such as Procter & Gamble Co. backing Monday's "Easy Living" and Home Depot sponsoring Friday's "Quick Fix" night.

push by scripps

E.W. Scripps Co.'s Scripps Networks has planted its flagpole firmly in the broader lifestyle niche that includes shelter shows. Scripps claims that according to data it collected during the week of March 12, shelter-related fare-including design, decorating, do-it-yourself and lifestyle shows-totaled 881 hours, 581 of which were Scripps programs.

HGTV's "House Hunters," focusing on prospective home buyers, is the network's highest-rated show, generating a 1.5 rating for households each Thursday.

HGTV and Food Network have attracted advertisers in financial services and travel, in addition to marketers endemic to their genres. Retailer Steinmart advertised on Scripps networks for the first time late last year, says Jon Steinlauf, Scripps senior VP-ad sales.

Advertisers peddling products for the home probably fare best on specialty shelter networks, says Jim Donohue, VP-associate media director at Publicis Groupe's MediaVest, New York. They should choose a few properties, create a regular presence with multiple spots, include billboard identification at the show's start or end and incorporate product placement appropriately, he says.

"Lifestyle programming is now a medium of choice for advertisers that once perceived it niche-focused," says Mr. Steinlauf.

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