Slowly but very surely, Scripps Networks Interactive has been building itself a foothold in the UK television market.
Described by UK and EMEA md Jonathan Sichel as “the smallest large media company in the US”, the lifestyle broadcaster launched Food Network here in 2009. Then, in 2011, it paid £339m for a 50% stake in UKTV. Last year, Food Network invested in a slot on Freeview, helping boost its monthly reach to 5.8m viewers. In May, Scripps assumed full ownership of Travel Channel in the UK and internationally. Scripps is increasingly engaging with the UK production community too, commissioning indies to make shows such as Andy Bates Street Feasts and Jenny Morris Cooks Morocco.
Nick Thorogood, who is in charge of content and marketing in the UK and EMEA, says that about 20% of Food Network UK’s shows are from Britain – with the balance coming from the US parent company. “We realised that if we wanted to get our channels talked about, we needed some original content to generate press and publicity.” He cites Andy Bates, discovered by a Food Network producer, who was working in a street market in East London and now hosts one of the channel’s top five rated shows. Sichel adds: “In a sea of content, where we have food and travel shows on every network, these brand ambassadors are key to our success and how we define ourselves.”
Currently, Scripps is focusing on Travel Channel in the UK, rebranding and bringing in new shows and genres. “The Travel Channel is going to get a lot of investment this year,” says Sichel. The move will see the channel bolstered with imports in a wider range of genres than previously. But it’s likely to mean more opportunities for UK producers too: “We need to find more content. Very specifically, as with the Food Network, we are looking to build up our brand ambassadors for travel,” says Thorogood. Budgets for UK shows range between £20-30k per half-hour.
Despite all the investment, its clear that Scripps has some way to go before its activities in the UK pay healthy dividends. Daily ratings for the channels, particularly Travel Channel, are low. (According to Barb, Travel Channel has a daily reach of 110k, while Food Network has a daily reach of 700k viewers). Throrogood says he is thrilled when a Food Network show gets 30-50k viewers. He says ratings comparisons with terrestrial channels are misleading. “For us, it is all about consistency and how we deliver our impact.”
Both stress that Scripps’ US operation is a good indicator of how the business might develop here in the long term. Impact and revenues are generated from broadcasting as well as digital, publishing and merchandising spin-offs.
“Food Network is such a powerhouse brand in the US,” Thorogood says. “You can cook on Food Network pans, source Food Network wine and the Food Network magazine was the most successful magazine launch in ten years.” Meanwhile, Scripps claims to attract 25% of users online searching for food-related information.
Sichel adds: “Scripps is a patient company. They are willing to invest for growth – they are not about short, immediate gain and then getting out of the business.” He says Scripps will be testing out business models here, whether through publications, cookbooks, building up websites or syndication deals.
Television, however, will be at the heart of the Scripps offering “There is nothing like the aggregated, passionate audience of television. I believe in the power of television,” says Sichel. Despite competition from the web in the lifestyle category, the mass audience that TV can deliver is crucial. “If you want to get your product famous and you are in the food category, how many different YouTube videos would you have to sponsor to reach 6m people in a month?” asks Thorogood.
The audience for Scripps’ channels is typically slightly older than average, with a bias towards C2DE viewers. Sichel says it is important that such an audience can trust the channels. “I like to think of us as comfortable brands. People can tune to us and they are not going to see shocking videos or something that is very disarming.”
Carving out presence in the competitive UK market is all about knowing your brand and having the right attitude, adds Thorogood. “We have never allowed ourselves to think small. We have always had the ambition to say that we are fabulous and that we love what we do. We may not have the biggest budgets and may be late to the party, but we have never allowed that to get in the way. We are just going to do what we do, and do it really well.”
A specialist in lifestyle channels, Scripps’ six US brands are Food Network, Travel Channel, DIY Network, Cooking Channel, HGTV and Great American Country.
Based in Knoxville, Tennessee, Scripps roots lie in newspapers – it began when Edward W. Scripps founded the Penny Press in Cleveland in 1878. In 2008, newspaper owner E.W. Scripps Co spun off its TV assets as Scripps Networks. With revenues of $9.3bn, Scripps is busy expanding internationally. Food Network is now in 90 countries, while Travel Channel broadcasts in 130.
Jonathan Sichel (pictured top right) Formerly acting general manager of Travel Channel in the US, Sichel was named md of Scripps Networks Interactive’s operations in the UK and EMEA in July. He’s a previous vice president of business affairs at Discovery.
Nick Thorogood (pictured top left)
Senior vice president of content and marketing for the UK and EMEA at Scripps Network, Thorogood used to be controller of Five Life and Five US; editor of ITV daytime and UKTV head of lifestyle channels.
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