Americans' frustration with the housing market has contributed to ratings slowdowns at HGTV; programming has been altered to better align with the zeitgeist. New talent is on board as the network aims to be "a little more relevant to the times and a little more relevant to what the American public is going through," the CEO of Scripps Networks said.
Foreclosures and struggles to pay mortgages have dampened some audience "exuberance" about improving their homes, and HGTV may have been slow to adapt, admits chief executive Ken Lowe.
"Some of the negative associations with the housing market caught us a little off guard ... our programming lineup in 2009 had to be readjusted," he said at an investor event Wednesday. "It took us a little while, and I think that took a little wind out of our sails."
Nonetheless, some networks wouldn't mind HGTV's plus signs as ratings for the key female 25-to-54 demo -- which, by one measure, are up 2% over the past year. Household figures are up 6%. Lowe said endemic advertisers, such as Home Depot and Lowe's, have not cut back at HGTV or the sister DIY network.
Inside the kitchen, ratings at Scripps' Food Network are up double digits, and the company is pleased with the recent launch of the Cooking Channel, which had nine advertisers committing $1 million-plus in the upfront.
Lowe said the upfront companywide was strong, and there have been "zero" cancellations for the first quarter.
Still, CFO Joe NeCastro expressed some concern about the inverse proportion between a robust ad market and limp economy, prompting the company to hold off on some forecasting for investors.
"If there's one hesitation we have at this moment, it's that there does seem to be a bit of a disconnect between the health of the advertising market and the economy at large," NeCastro said. "If we had a little more confidence that those two were better aligned, we'd feel much better about issuing guidance at this point."