Scripps’ Hi-Def Two-Step

Apr 4, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In a major shift to its high-definition strategy unveiled late last year, the Scripps Networks now is developing two stand-alone HD channels, rather than one catch-all HD destination for its brands. As part of the ramp-up, Scripps plans to more than double its production of HD content this year.

“Our plan is to take Food Network and HGTV straight into high definition with two launches in 2006,” said John Lansing, president of Scripps Networks. The goal is to launch HGTV in HD at the beginning of the first quarter, with Food Network to follow in the second quarter. The names of the networks will be HGTV-HD and Food-HD, pending final trademark.

That’s a big change from the original plans to launch a compilation network, a la Discovery HD Theater, that would draw from all four of Scripps’ lifestyle networks: Food Network, HGTV, Fine Living and DIY.

The new HD networks will feature more content from each of the centerpiece brands, with HGTV-HD also including DIY content and Food-HD bringing Fine Living shows aboard. Mr. Lansing emphasized that the networks will not be HD simulcasts of the standard-definition channels. Instead, they will be entirely in HD all the time and will have their own distinct scheduling, though they will largely consist of shows shot in HD for the core brands.

To lay the groundwork for the channel introductions next year, Scripps plans to more than double the amount of hours it will produce in high-definition this year. Scripps had originally planned to launch its one channel with about 300 to 400 hours of HD content.

The content company wants to amass about 1,000 hours of content for the launch and then add hours from there. Specifically, HGTV will increase from a planned 200 hours of HD content to 400; Food Network from 50 to close to 400; and Fine Living and DIY from 50 hours combined to anywhere from 100 to 200 total hours.

That’s an unusually ambitious plan. By comparison, Discovery HD Theater launched in 2002 with 100 hours and now is up to 1,000 hours. The network is now carried by nearly every major cable operator and satellite provider.

“We will pick the shows that will look best in hi-def and then we build a branded service using that new programming on the hi-def channels,” Mr. Lansing said. “In no way will it be a mirror of the other channel.”

Content slated for the HD channels includes Fine Living’s “The Wandering Golfer”; HGTV’s “Extreme Homes of Europe” and new shows “My First Place,” “Small Spaces, Big Style” and “Offbeat America;” Food Networks’ “Food Vacation,” shot on location in Italy; Alton Brown’s show “Good Eats”; and special “Giada’s Italian Holiday” with Giada DeLaurentis. Scripps owns 90 percent of its programming.

To round out the two channels, Scripps will look to make some international acquisitions from European production companies in Spain, France, Germany, England and other countries. That content also could serve as a launching pad for European distribution of the channels, Mr. Lansing said.

He explained that the decision to ratchet up the network’s HD plans came from his own experience as a high-definition customer. “You tend to get seduced in the beginning by the pretty pictures, but that wears off,” he said.

What Scripps can bring to consumers and distributors, he said, are two strong lifestyle brands that aren’t just eye candy. “It’s more than just panoramic video that will drive the demand for high-definition. The brands themselves will drive high-definition in the same way they drive analog basic,” Mr. Lansing said.

Though no deal has been inked yet, Comcast is a fan of the possibility. “If a deal is able to be put together, we believe from a marketing standpoint that this would be a great tool to help us sell more HD service,” said Kevin Hill, VP of national video marketing for Comcast. As prices drop for sets, HD will become more attractive to more people and additional programming genres will be needed. The expansiveness of Fine Living’s outdoor adventure and travel shows and the visual feast of foods and their rich colors on Food Network will only be enhanced in HD, he said.

Food and HGTV also draw both male and female audiences, whereas most current HD content skews male, said Mark Hale, Scripps Networks executive VP of operations and production.

The business model for the channels will rely on advertising and license fees. Mr. Hale said the cost of producing in HD is about 30 percent more.

“We have built all of our networks on low-cost programming that is highly valued by a very passionate group of fans,” Mr. Lansing said. “As long as we keep costs manageable and have good negotiations, there is no reason we can’t create a business within three to five years.”

Demand for HD programming is likely to rise. A March study by the Consumer Electronics Association found that nearly half of all consumers intend to buy an HD set when they make their next TV purchase. CEA said the total number of HD sets shipped to retailers hit 16.3 million at the end of 2004, a number that should rise to 36 million by the end of this year.