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)