Scripps Networks, owner of the powerhouse cable brands HGTV and Food Network plus niche brands DIY, Fine Living and GAC, is joining the syndication fray, today announcing a deal with AOL Video for distribution of clips from at least 25 of its programs. The deal stops short of full program syndication along the lines of last week's Comedy Central-Hulu deal and others, but is still a meaningful step in extending these brands beyond the borders of their respective web sites.
I've been following Scripps Networks for a long while and recently got a briefing from Deanna Brown, who serves as president of the Interactive Group which handles all Internet-related activities at Scripps Networks. Brown joined the company a little over a year ago and is an online veteran, having served as an executive at both Yahoo and AOL previously.
Scripps was one of the early adopters of broadband video, initially seeding its site with program clips from HGTV and Food and more recently creating standalone broadband properties (e.g. HGTV KitchenDesign, HGTV BathDesign, others). Brown explained that Scripps views video as part of the overall user experience, not to be positioned as standalone. Contextualization drives more video consumption and page views. For the most recent 3 months Scripps averaged almost 10 million video views/month, up about 36% from the prior year's period. HGTV was a big part of that, doubling its video views year over year.
I've long thought that broadband is a huge win for Scripps because its lifestyle brands and programs are part information, part entertainment and presented in short segments. This is about as good a fit for online consumption as possible. In fact, over the years when content startups have sought my input, I've often referred to Scripps as an example of content having a highly actionable content model and a "natural base" of advertisers, a model for others to emulate in further product categories.
With Scripps, advertisers reach an audience that is both targeted and action-oriented. Given the massive size of the home and kitchen-related products markets, Scripps is in an enviable position. Yet once again reflecting the early state of the broadband video ad market, Brown explained that they're continuing to test what works in video advertising, particularly mid-rolls and overlays recently. Brown cited monetization flexibility as a key part of Scripps' recent decision to standardize on Maven Networks' platform. Note that in the AOL deal, Scripps will sell ads against its inventory.
Though Brown described herself as partnership-driven, most of Scripps broadband efforts have centered on building out its sites. She explained that they haven't felt pressure to do a lot of deals quickly, instead tending to be methodical about which distributors offer the best ROI potential. A key goal of its distribution deals is to reach younger audiences and video is seen as a way to speak to this audience. A slew of social networking initiatives are underway as well to tap this demo's online behavior.
With Scripps Networks poised to be separated on July 1st from the larger newspaper and broadcast businesses at E.W. Scripps, online will be a critical growth driver. That suggests we can expect plenty more video activity going forward.
Categories: Cable Networks
The past two days have witnessed two very significant cable network-related transactions. First, Discovery announced its acquisition of HowStuffWorks for $250 million, its largest acquisition ever. And second, Scripps announced that it would separate itself into two companies, with its marquee networks, HGTV and Food Network, finally being pried free from the E. W. Scripps's traditional newspaper business.
I interpret these announcements as continued recognition by major cable networks that their futures lie squarely in the interactive and broadband video areas. These networks - and others - are laying the groundwork for an evolution from sole dependence on their traditional business model. That model has been a monster success over the years, built on ever-expanding distribution through cable and other multichannel platforms and annual increases in monthly affiliate fees.
With the advent of the Internet and broadband, the fragmentation of audiences, the proliferation of content startups and the strengthening of online advertising models, all cable networks realize that embracing interactive/broadband opportunities is critical to their future success.
Discovery's acquisition of HSW gives it a trove of broad and deep online content, some developed by HSW and some supplied by third parties, which will now be available to Discovery's multiple properties. In one fell swoop, Discovery gains scale and expertise, which must now be delicately integrated into its current on-air and online brands. If the integration of HSW's content is a success, it will become a template for other deals.
Meanwhile, the Scripps split up follows that of Belo, another lagging newspaper company. The standalone entity, Scripps Networks Interactive, will have a growth focus leveraging strong brands in some of the best lifestyle categories (food, home, luxury, etc.). With its own currency to do deals, I wouldn't be surprised to see Scripps ramp up its acquisition activity as it bolsters its position across all these categories (in fact CEO Ken Lowe said as much in the analyst call). Scripps has been a real leader among cable programmers in building out broadband extensions to its cable networks and I would expect to see that activity grow, accompanied by distribution deals with online distributors which have strong reach.
While the Discovery and Scripps deals are the latest evidence that the traditional cable programming world is undergoing significant change, I expect we'll see plenty more similar moves in the year ahead.
(Note while both Discovery and Scripps are clients, these are my opinions only and no confidential information has been relied upon)