Tapping a Cable Net’s Merchandising Power

Jan 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

As head of Food Network, Judy Girard saw cooks make money by building brands and selling merchandise. Now, as president of E.W. Scripps Co.’s Shop at Home Network, Ms. Girard expects to cash in on the phenomenon.
Ms. Girard said in her new role, which was announced last week, she expects to work closely with Food Network and Scripps’ other cable networks: HGTV, Do It Yourself Network and Fine Living. In fact, she expects to run both Food, based in New York, and Shop at Home, based in Memphis, Tenn., for at least six months to ensure a smooth transition.
“I’m going to do both because the two networks are so joined at the hip,” she said. “The integration of one to the other and the relationship and how we use talent on shows is going to be much easier if I’m doing both.”
Ms. Girard said she got interested in TV commerce about six months ago as she watched Food Network’s on-air talent succeed at merchandising. The network didn’t get a piece of those sales, nor does it do product-placement deals.
At that time, Food began expanding sales on its Web site.
“We were very successful in doing that without really trying that hard,” she said. “I think the potential is enormous, both as a brand and as a revenue stream.”
She said after she showed some interest in home shopping she was asked by Scripps management to run Shop at Home. And while the Food Network was a great place, she said, “I love networks whose potential hasn’t been tapped. I think it’s a great challenge.”
Talent will be at the center of much of the integration between Food and Shop at Home, Ms. Girard said.
“Our talent is very merchandise-oriented, as is our category,” she said.
She said she sees Shop at Home as the commerce arm of Food Net and the other Scripps nets, with popular Food personalities such as Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay appearing on both.
Shop at Home has already produced an integrated program with HGTV’s “Dream Home Giveaway.” Shop at Home has a show that demonstrates some of the decorating techniques employed on the show and sells some of the products that are in the Dream Home.
Ms. Girard plans to pour more resources into Shop at Home. The call center will be expanded and technical capacity will be added because increased Internet activity is expected once Shop at Home is linked with the cable network’s Web sites.
Programming and promotion on Shop at Home will be more integrated with the networks as well, but Shop at Home will retain a brand identity of its own. Ms. Girard sees it as a “very unique boutique” that ties in to the Scripps Networks.
That might limit the range of merchandise sold on air, since none of the Scripps networks really deal in jewelry, for example, which is a hot seller on QVC and HSN. “Those guys may be running a general store, but we’ll be running a branded boutique,” she said.
Shop at Home is in 47 million homes, mostly through cable. Scripps’ distribution group is working to increase its households.
“I think we have a great deal of credibility with the operators,” Ms. Girard said. “We deliver what we say and we’re off and running.”
Ms. Girard said she expects Shop at Home to have a relationship with Scripps properties beyond cable: newspapers, television stations and Web sites.
“That is a vision that Ken [Lowe, Scripps CEO] has had for some time and the purchase of Shop at Home [in October 2002] begins to let us execute that vision.”
Ms. Girard, who has been president of Food Network since 2000, succeeds Frank Woods at Shop at Home. Mr. Woods, who was CEO when the network was acquired by Scripps, becomes chairman.
While at Food Network, Ms. Girard moved away from simple cooking shows in prime time, experimenting with formats ranging from top five lists to relationship shows while successfully launching an “In the Kitchen” block of how-to shows on weekends. During 2003 the network averaged a 0.6 rating in prime time, up from 0.5 in 2002.
But she said the addition of the shopping component on Shop at Home won’t impact Food’s programming decisions, and that cooking shows won’t migrate from one network to the other.
“We get a lot of inquiries [like], `Where’d you get that from?’ or, `What is that knife?’ and this is a way to satisfy that viewer interest and need and not sell on our network specifically.”