Four years ago, TLC's imported British TV show, Changing Rooms, landed on our shores amid mild applause from the American public. With this to build on, TLC thought its American version of the show, Trading Spaces, would do well too. However, TLC had no idea that Trading Spaces would become a ratings and cultural phenomenon. "It was a proven format with the BBC. When we saw the success [of Changing Rooms], we began Trading Spaces. Nothing was a big surprise, but I think the extent of where it's gone is a nice surprise," says Amy Baker, vice president of Discovery Solutions.
Like Changing Rooms (which has appeared on the BBC for years), Trading Spaces has a simple concept. Take two neighbors, give them $1,000 each to spend at a local home improvement superstore, and tell them they've got 48 hours to transform a room in each other's homes. Add a perky host, the help of designers and carpenters, and the occasional decorating misfire, and you've got the makings of a hit.
The hourlong show is the biggest hit on TLC, a channel owned by Bethesda, Md.-based Discovery Networks. It's also a hit that defies cable/broadcast definitions. Despite being in a tough slot in prime time Ñ 8 to 10 p.m. Saturdays Ñ Trading Spaces is number two among adults 18Ð49 not only in cable but also against the networks. It also consistently takes first place in prime-time cable and broadcast TV for adults 18Ð49 and 25Ð54.
For its third-season premiere last September, two episodes topped TLC's rating records and beat ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox in prime-time averages in many key demos: Women 25Ð54, women 18Ð49, women 18Ð34, and women 18+. More than 6 million women tuned in to watch the two-hour block. It was TLC's top-rated prime-time show ever among households. The episode was also ad-supported cable's number one program on Saturday in key demographics.
Through all its airings Ñ prime-time 8 to 10 p.m. Saturdays, plus 11 a.m. to noon Saturdays, noon to 1 p.m. Sundays, and 4 to 5 p.m. weekdays Ñ more than 15.3 million people watch Trading Spaces in an average week.
"It has sort of been three years in the works. It has been evolving into something bigger and bigger every season É It seems like we haven't seen the ceiling of the program, of the audience," Baker says.
For advertisers, Baker sees Trading Spaces' value as being not only in the name but also in the opportunities it brings. For two advertisers that have been there from the beginning, Procter & Gamble's Swiffer and home improvement center Lowe's, it has offered the opportunity for what Baker calls organic product placement. Lowe's and Swiffer are woven into each program beyond the typical TV spots. Each family is required to spend their $1,000 at a Lowe's; the disposable mop Swiffer is found throughout the show, particularly in the cleanup just before the neighbors reveal their creations.
Trading Spaces doesn't just attract products in the home improvement category. General Motors is a sponsor, as are entertainment companies, packaged goods, financial services, and others.
"This particular program has just about every category wanting to be a part of it," says Baker. "It is clearly our highest-rated program, so right now it has the highest demand.