Fine Living Venture Tests Web Potential

Oct 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In an effort to mine new online revenue, Fine Living has crafted a show designed to test the network’s potential as an online concierge.

Last week the network premiered its monthlong special “Book It: Hawaii,” a program devised specifically to drive viewers to the network’s Web site to purchase a vacation package.

“When we first started out with Fine Living we said we want to inspire people to do things and make it easy for them to make it happen. This is perhaps the most tangible example to date of us trying to do this,” said John MacDonald, general manager of the network.

Along with that inspiration should come some dollars. Fine Living will receive up to 30 percent of the booking commission for any trips that are booked through its Web site. The show and the vacation packages are being promoted prominently this month on the home page of the network’s Web site, fineliving.com.

Expansion Plans

If the concept is successful, Fine Living will look to extend it into a series and install infrastructure and full-time staffers to support the show. It may also extend into other categories, such as party planning, entertainment and even products.

“It would be a new revenue stream,” said Beth Higbee, VP of new media for Food Network, Fine Living and GAC.

Scripps has not been shy about its penchant for the online business. The company plans to move forward later this year with the first of a handful of broadband channels covering various lifestyle topics, while Food Network is slated to launch a Web-exclusive ad-supported series next month.

As the company has invested more resources in creating online content, the Web sites for its four lifestyle brands-Fine Living, Food Network, HGTV and DIY-collectively saw a 321 percent increase in video streams served from July 2004 to July 2005, according to WebTrends data provided by Scripps. Those figures indicate users are increasingly interacting with the networks’ online content.

The Fine Living effort is the latest move by a Scripps property to ferret out novel online business extensions. “We are producing the show on-air for the very reason of encouraging you to book a similar trip online,” Ms. Higbee said.

Fine Living thinks there is potential to serve as a booking agent because Web traffic spiked for online content surrounding travel programs. For instance, during several airings this spring of an episode of “Smart Travels With Rudy Maxa” that profiled several Paris apartments, the network noticed heavy Web traffic to information on the apartments. What Fine Living didn’t know was whether the viewers simply wanted details or wanted to book those apartments for a stay. The network thought, “What if we didn’t send them off to someone else and we fulfill that final step [instead]?” Ms. Higbee said.

The next logical step was to vet that concept more thoroughly. In July the network conducted focus groups, which found that viewers saw the network as a resource to recommend different products and services germane to its content, Ms. Higbee said. “We asked if they would consider booking through us and they said, ‘Yes, if you give us something unique, we would.'”

She added, “They wanted a recommendation for what they could do. They looked at the Web site as a resource.”

Three Packages

In August and September the network assembled the moving pieces for “Book It: Hawaii.” Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., were under consideration, but Hawaii had unique appeal, she said. Fine Living host Gordon Elliot traveled there to shoot intros and wraps for the vacations profiled. The three Hawaii trips include a romantic getaway, a family trip and a girls getaway.

While the show just launched Oct. 2 (at least five more showings were planned for October), early Web activity looked promising. More than 90 percent of site visitors to the “Book It” page clicked through to get more information in the first 24 hours, Mr. MacDonald said. He expected actual bookings to take a few days to kick in, since most people don’t buy a Hawaii vacation that quickly and want to take a few days to mull over the offer.

The project demonstrates how cable programmers can build relationships with their viewers beyond programming by leveraging the broadband platform, said Will Richmond, president of research firm Broadband Directions. “Fine Living is developing a far more intimate relationship with its viewers than in the past. That’s a totally different relationship than just turning on the TV and watching,” he said.

Ms. Higbee said the costs for the network to produce the show, in addition to regular programming expenses, are not high and include primarily technology and labor costs to build the online forms.

She added that Fine Living does not consider the show an infomercial because the content is editorial and the vacation spots did not pay to be featured. It’s more like direct response, she said.

The incentives to book through the network include a pre-arranged package, special perks, including meals and excursions, and a Fine Living grab bag upon arrival in the hotel room. Prices for the trips range from $2,000 to $7,000.