Scripps’ Small Nets Turn to Sponsors

Nov 11, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Scripps Networks, which until recently has mostly avoided product placement in its how-to programming, now is building entire programs around specific advertisers.
The custom limited series and specials appear on Scripps’ smaller networks, DIY Network and Fine Living. The Propane Education & Research Council paid $675,000 for a five-part series that finished airing on DIY last week. A one-hour prime-time special sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Bureau appeared on Fine Living earlier this year.
Jon Steinlauf, senior VP of advertising sales at Scripps, said the company is slowly ramping up the program, which might include sponsored episodes of existing series on those networks. Scripps already has commitments to produce custom programs in 2008 for a theme park company and another tourism board on Fine Living and a home improvement advertiser on DIY. One automaker plans to have a program on each network.
“We’re trying to do this gradually, a couple of deals a year,” Mr. Steinlauf said. “It is not a focus of our sales organization.”
But he said there is great pressure from advertisers who are looking to showcase their product directly in content as digital video recorders make it easier to skip commercials.
“The marketplace really wants us to be as flexible as possible, but the marketplace also respects the fact that we’re one of the few places that hasn’t gone full speed ahead into product integration,” he said. “And we think we’re better off for not having done that.”
While Scripps’ big networks, HGTV and Food Network, eschew placement, they have long run sponsored vignettes after program segments leading into commercial breaks. For the smaller networks, however, that’s not enough.
“I agree that we’re stretching here, but the 50 million-home cable network business has different economics than the 96 million-home cable network business,” Mr. Steinlauf said. “”I think the market expects you to be creative on all your networks, but on your smaller networks, you’ve got to make compelling arguments as to why advertisers should commit large amounts of money, and we’re using these to drive large commitments.”
Mr. Steinlauf said the sponsored shows use high production values and don’t overtly shill products the way a typical infomercial does.
The shows are produced under the direction of the network general managers, who are responsible for preserving the integrity of their brands.
“Unlike entertainment networks, it is important for viewers of Scripps networks to believe they’re getting objective information, because what we value above everything else is the trust that the audience has in the brand,” he said.
The Propane Council series is called “Moving It Outside” and involves a couple whose building projects, including an outdoor kitchen and a hot tub, involve propane.
It looks largely like a normal do-it-yourself show. The couple is real and their house in Tennessee is real, Mr. Steinlauf said. Propane, propane tanks and propane lines are mentioned on-air while the projects are being built.
The Propane Council had been advertising on Scripps networks, including DIY, using commercials and vignettes, when Scripps floated the series idea.
“We see this campaign as entering a new phase to build on high consumer awareness of propane,” said Propane Council Senior VP Kate Caskin, who appears on-camera briefly during episodes to list some of propane’s attributes.
“A program like ‘Move It Outside’ gave us a great opportunity, a longer format, to go beyond advertising and tell a longer, fuller story about propane in a way you can’t do in 30 seconds.”
Ms. Caskin was able to review a rough cut of the show before it aired and saw that as an opportunity to do fact-checking, but said she had few if any comments and did not ask for any changes.
For its $675,000, the Propane Council got its product integrated into the five-part series. That figure included a scheduling fee for running the series nine times from September through November in different dayparts, plus six 30-second spots and two 60-second vignettes in each episode.
While the council hasn’t gotten any hard data, the show so far has drawn mostly positive comments from people in the propane business and consumers in general, she said.
Mr. Steinlauf said the show was a winner for DIY as well, with one episode drawing 150,000 viewers, a big number for a network in 49 million homes.
“The rating to us is a benchmark that the core DIY audience isn’t rejecting a show because it’s so dominated by an advertiser,” he said.
The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Bureau special on Fine Living was called “Las Vegas Dream Dining” and was hosted by David Myers, who hosts another show on the network.
Mr. Steinlauf said clients are told the shows won’t endorse a product or spell out its attributes. Instead, they are about a lifestyle into which the client’s product fits.
“The client is going to get more exposure in these shows than any client’s getting in any of our other shows, but it has to be organic and it has to fit the theme of the network and it can’t be over-commercialized and we’re not going to take an editorial position about one product versus another,” he said. “We’re never going to go on the air and say use this paint, don’t use that paint, this is the best paint. That’s what commercials are for.”


  1. There’s nothing as disingenuous as an infomercial. Even though this new way to appease advertisers may not have the ‘format’ of an infomercial, that’s exactly what it is. You completely lose the ability to be objective when an advertiser runs a show – for instance, what if using propane ISN’T the best way to accomplish that home project?
    I’ll not be watching any more DIY episodes. I shouldn’t have to try and discern what’s real and what isn’t in a non-fiction TV program. It’s not a big deal though, because I can just get on the internet and use their online competitors to get DIY tips.
    Once again, TV becomes completely irrelevant due to the actions of clueless and imbecilic ad execs.

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