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Broadband on Scripps’ Menu

May 16, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Scripps Networks, one of the biggest producers of cable content, plans to launch up to three new channels this year on broadband.

The move would make Scripps one of the first major programmers to move into broadband with original content other than news or sports.

Burton Jablin, executive VP of Scripps Networks, said the time for Scripps to move into broadband is now because most of the viewers who use the Web sites associated with the Scripps cable networks are already hooked up to broadband. “People are watching videos on our Web sites,” he said. Seven million Scripps videos were streamed in March.

And Scripps is able to move into broadband at a low cost because it is already producing 3,000 hours of content a year and has Web sites with tens of thousands of projects that have video attached to them.

Mr. Jablin doesn’t see broadband channels cannibalizing the company’s cable channels or its Web sites. “The goal of our brands is to be the foremost media brand in the categories we create content in,” he said. “We want to solidify our relationship with the consumers we already have and to get them to spend more time with us, no matter what the medium.”

Scripps already provides broadband video to MSN and Comcast.net and now wants to use that video to build its own broadband business. “We do expect broadband to be profitable,” he said.

The first broadband channel Scripps plans to launch is about kitchens, a subject dealt with by most of the Scripps cable networks-HGTV, Food Network, DIY and Fine Living-and their Web sites.

The next one would deal with one of the hobby and craft categories from DIY, such as woodworking, scrapbooking or other projects, he said.

“The third, we’re hoping, will relate to something at Food Network so we can leverage the incredible traffic that Food Network has right now,” he said.

Internally Scripps refers to these broadband channels as verticals because they are built around a narrow subject area. “On a linear network like HGTV, you can only program so much on gardening or on kitchens or so much on low-cost decorating,” Mr. Jablin said. “You’ve got to have a little variety or you’re not going to have the broadcast audience we can get on HGTV. So the opportunity with these verticals is to allow the person who would like a lot more kitchen information, woodworking information and low-cost decorating information, to be able to get it in a much fuller way than we can give it to them and satisfy them on-air and even online, the way we do it right now.”

Over the next two years Mr. Jablin expects to launch eight to 10 more channels, all of which would be ad-supported.

“Our ad sales people tell us there is more demand for broadband content than we can create right now,” he said.

Several Scripps sites already have broadband video that is sponsored by clients, including GMC Truck and Lending Tree.com. Scripps does not allow product placement in its shows but has been working closely with advertisers online and with broadband to find ways to allow the advertisers to forge closer links with viewers, Mr. Jablin said.

Scripps is also doing research into a subscription model for the channels. Subscribers could pay to become part of an affinity group or club, with members entitled to delve deeper into the material on the channel and also be entitled to discounts from advertisers and on Scripps’ Shop at Home channel.

The subscription model would be more important for areas with passionate fans but a small ad base, such as quilting. “If we can figure out the value proposition that would give quilters a reason to sign up for our affinity club, there might be an opportunity there,” Mr. Jablin said.

The broadband channels would give viewers access to content beyond video, including text, slide shows, audio, links and specialized tools such as calculators to help viewers do projects.

“It will offer a broader, richer experience than we can do currently with packages on our Web site,” he said. “This is going to be new in the sense that it’s a combination of the richness and variety of content, combined with a visual look and an architecture to the vertical that just makes it an experience unlike what people are getting now anywhere and certainly not on our Web sites just yet.”

Viewers will be able to get to the broadband channels through the cable channels’ Web sites. The channel would probably open with some video that “gets you involved right away,” he said. The experience and content might also be different, depending on from which Web site one enters.

Scripps is still working out the navigation system, but Mr. Jablin said he is looking at the use of personalities, rather than Web-style graphics, as a way to guide users through the material.

“Some of the [broadband] video on MSN and Comcast have personalities attached to them,” Mr. Jablin noted. “You shoot it a little differently. People are watching a small video box on their computer screen, so you shoot the talent a little more close up. It’s very effective because it’s a familiar way to deliver content in an unfamiliar medium.”

Based on its experience, Mr. Jablin said, Scripps believes that video on broadband has to be shorter than a cable program. While a show on installing a sink on a network like DIY would be a half-hour long, on the vertical, three to five minutes would be a good length, he said. While that short a clip could tell how to do the whole job, it would provide an overview and work with other material on the channel that would provide more details.

“I just helped a friend install a cabinet above a stove and a microwave below that cabinet,” Mr. Jablin said. “We followed the instructions that came with that microwave installation step by step and we still made a major mistake. If we had been able to watch a video of that before we actually followed the instructions step by step-three minutes, five minutes, just walking you through the steps-it would have been a big help to help us avoid a critical mistake.”

Scripps has already begun shooting original video for the kitchen broadband site.

The company had video crews for HGTV and HGTV.com in Las Vegas for a kitchen and bath industry show. “We had each of those crews do a little extra shooting for material that will be used exclusively for the kitchen vertical,” Mr. Jablin said. “It’s that kind of addition to what we’re already doing that allows us to do this in a very economical way.”

The channels will use a lot of library footage at first, but eventually it will give way to more original video.

“If you want to see how to install a sink, that’s a great library video package that you can put together. If you’re doing the latest on what’s new in kitchen design, that has to be new and that’s why we were out at the kitchen show shooting new video that will be used exclusively on this vertical,” he said. “There will be a little mixing and matching and overlap, but we want the verticals to be unique.”

Even though the video is appearing via broadband, Mr. Jablin wants the video to be high-quality. “What we’re learning from working with our outside partners is that the better-looking the video is the more likely people will continue watching it once they click on it. Shooting video costs about the same no matter what the end medium is. The savings comes from leveraging what we’re already out there shooting.”

Scripps recently named one of its top producers, Peter Clem, to VP of broadband production.

Mr. Jablin said Scripps’ jump into broadband video doesn’t change its commitment to VOD. But he said that VOD can’t offer as much content of various types as these vertical channels. VOD must also use “a television architecture that is a little tricky to explain to people right now,” he said. “We’re still a strong supporter of it. We’re working with our cable partners. We’re not backtracking in any way on that.”