How-to series find on-demand home

Jan 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Movies and sex aren’t the only draws for video-on-demand. Scripps Networks, in the first several weeks of its trial of on-demand content from Home and Garden Television, Food Network and Do It Yourself, has learned that handy men and women have a penchant for purchasing how-to shows.
Scripps fired off its on-demand trial in late November on Time Warner Cable’s Cincinnati system. The service is available to 92,000 digital homes, about 20 percent of cable homes in the market, according to Scripps. The service launched with about 100 titles, which consists of 60 hours of programming or 20 from each of the three networks.
While Scripps is still early in the testing process, preliminary data from the first several weeks has already revealed some trends.
DIY generated half the total combined buys from all three networks in the first five to six weeks. One of the most popular DIY shows was “Radio Control Hobbies,” focusing on hobbies such as boats, planes, trucks and cars. “That seemed to hit an enthusiastic group,” said Channing Dawson, senior VP of new ventures for Scripps Networks in Knoxville, Tenn. “How-to in general worked well,” he said.
The most popular show of the first month of the trial was Food Network’s “Cooking Live, A French Christmas with Anne Willan.” All the initial programming from Food and HGTV centered on holiday themes. Holiday food preparation shows were popular, especially those on bread making, desserts and holiday meals. But turkey recipes weren’t as well received as the programmer had expected.
The how-to shows from all three networks were the most popular. According to Mr. Dawson, their appeal spread across all categories: hobbies, decorating, home improvement and holiday food.
In the on-demand world, niche content is more likely to be successful than content from a general entertainment network, said T.S. Kelly, director and principal media analyst for Nielsen//Net Ratings in New York. “Special-interest content seems to be the quickest way to develop a unique, one-on-one way to reach the consumer. There have to be unique niches, and do-it-yourself programming is one,” he said.
Scripps also learned that both men and women sampled the how-to offerings, and early data suggests longer shows are more appealing than shorter shows. A solid share of the purchases were made during the day, which allows Scripps to present its service as a complement to typical VOD fare, since most movie watching is done at night. “We’re surprised and pleased that some-not all-viewing is during the day,” Mr. Dawson said.
In late December, Scripps refreshed its content with another 60 hours of on-demand programming for January and February 2002. The programmer plans to shift to a monthly schedule in the spring and will then offer 30 hours each month, with 10 from each network.
While hit movies are the compelling force behind VOD, other programmers are seizing the opportunity to corral a spot on the server now before movie studios complete their deals with VOD companies and snag all the technological real estate. “There is a window of opportunity for non-movie networks to get in, learn the business and secure shelf space before it’s all movie networks,” Mr. Dawson said. “We have the kind of content that, if not the primary driver of VOD, is the secondary driver because it’s information.”
From its trials, Scripps hopes to learn whether the content is viable in an on-demand world, what the technical issues, proper packaging and marketing might be and how to build a working business model.
To date, the programmer has offered all of its titles at 99 cents each. However, Mr. Dawson said he would like to test a subscription model in which viewers pay a certain fee each month for access to a library of content. In the future, Scripps will also package shows as compilations at a variety of price points.
Scripps plans to follow up on the early launch data through phone research with viewers. In addition, the programmer will experiment with the schedules, mix of shows, length of shows and packaging. “The whole thing is to train the audience,” Mr. Dawson said.