Scripps Offers Food For Thought, HGTV Too: Seeks To 'Engage' Buyers With Upfront Pitch

In the first significant ad industry pitch of the 2004-05 network upfront buying season, Scripps Networks this week focused on new research indicating niche networks like its Food and HGTV deliver viewers that are more "involved" in programming and advertising than the viewers of broad reach television networks. As such, Scripps is taking a page out of an increasingly popular magazine industry playbook: that media consumer "involvement" translates into higher advertising value. In other words: Less is more and should be worth more to advertisers.

The pitch, which centered on new research developed by Simmons Market Research Bureau, resonated much better with media agency executives than when Scripps Networks first began positioning the idea last August at a breakfast presentation to the top ad shops.

That meeting at Food Network's studios, a few thousand feet from Emeril's kitchen, didn't deliver a knockout punch as far as the agencies were concerned. The researchers appreciated having the study, part of a growing base of knowledge in consumer engagement with media. But the agencies told Scripps the study would be of limited value in its present form.



A network-commissioned study is always looked at a bit skeptically. It's more of a sales tool than anything else. And if the data doesn't connect with the agency's computer system and in-house modeling, then the study is duly noted and filed in a drawer somewhere. Scripps executives acknowledged agencies' concerns and appealed for help that would give the study more street cred on Madison Avenue. They solicited help with question formulation and usefulness from many top agencies, including Carat USA, Initiative Media, mediaedge:cia, OMD, and Starcom MediaVest Group. And although it had done the study for a couple of years with its own staff, Scripps reached out to Simmons to test whether the results would stand up to a third-party researcher's methods.

In recent weeks, Scripps Networks has sent the newest version of the study to media agencies. And in a brunch meeting with reporters Thursday morning on the 89th-floor penthouse of the Trump World Center high above Manhattan's East Side, Scripps brass unveiled the study.

The headline: Scripps Networks' four channels still score high on viewer engagement, at or close to the top in many of the studies' 23 attributes among regular viewers of 35 cable and broadcast channels that target adults ages 18-49 and 25-54. Beyond Scripps' four niche channels, the study includes such networks as A&E, Discovery, ESPN, Hallmark Channel, TBS, and The Weather Channel. It doesn't include younger-skewing networks such as MTV, VH1, and Nickelodeon.

Among adults ages 25-54 who were considered regular viewers, the four Scripps Networks topped the list in such categories as "it provides information about quality products and services;" "the ads are relevant;" "the ads are informative;" "you can trust the products advertised on this channel;" and "you are more inclined to buy products and services on this channel." Even questions about providing useful information and helping to make the most of viewers' lives--where The Weather Channel came up on top--DIY, HGTV, Food Network, and Fine Living did well.

"This is probably the most in-depth, most robust study done on viewer engagement so far," says Steve Gigliotti, executive vice president of advertising sales and emerging markets at Scripps Networks.

And, as vice president of research Michael Pardee points out, the study isn't just a general look at the viewing audience. The survey measures the opinions of 200 core viewers of each channel to provide an even playing field. "Not everyone is an aficionado of every network," Pardee points out.

Scripps Networks has always prided itself on having a more passionate audience for its channels, ever since HGTV signed on in the mid-1990s. It's what chairman and chief executive Kenneth Lowe--who founded HGTV, Scripps' first network--describes as the network's high percentage of viewers who "lean in" instead of passively watching.

Pardee, who has studied this in depth since he arrived at Scripps five years ago, says the networks' environment builds relationships with viewers and gives viewers the confidence to choose products and services. That translates to real benefits to advertisers, Scripps says.

"We're telling you what happened [with this study]," Pardee says. "The why it happened is that we give people the confidence to make the right purchases."

The study's database, which is in the final stages of preparation, will be compatible with systems in place at agencies, just as they wanted.

Agency research people who have received the executive summary released so far like what they see.

"On the agency side, it gives us a wide perspective on a lot of networks," says Rob Frydlewicz, vice president and director of research at Carat Insight in New York. He says he is particularly interested in the findings that reveal how the viewers see the networks as advertising vehicles. Carat knows something about engagement through its work on return on involvement.

"It's the same idea, going beyond actual audience size, and getting into the heads of the viewers," Frydlewicz says. "It [the study] indicates that there are networks that some people don't value as much."

David Ernst, executive vice president/director of futures and technologies at Initiative Media in New York, acknowledges that the data adds to the emerging qualitative/quantitative research in the field. Ernst himself is co-author of a study in the field with the MIT Media Lab.

"We're pretty big advocates of pursuing this line of investigation, and we really need to applaud the Scripps Networks for doing this kind of research," Ernst says.

He says the Scripps study can be described as a piece of the overall planning process.

"It's something that helps us understand the value of these networks," he says. "You are not going to make a decision based on the data. But you are going to use it and interpret it with the other information we use."

Frydlewicz says involving Simmons gives Scripps' study more credibility.

"But even when they [Scripps] were doing it, I think some of the findings were of interest," he says. "We didn't just discard it. If they were the top four for everything, there would be a problem. The fact that it wasn't showing that lent it some credence." And he's happy that the study has included the broadcast networks, although an ideal study would also include viewers of MTV and other networks that were not included. It's clear why Scripps doesn't have them in the study: They're not in the target demographics.

"We'd look at this study beyond the four Scripps networks," Frydlewicz says. "We're looking at the broad picture. Ideally, we'd have the MTVs in here and a few of the other networks, which of course don't make sense for Scripps."

Gigliotti says the networks wanted to take what the agencies said and make a more credible study.

"We put all of our chips on the table," he says.

Some results of the Scripps Networks' study on viewer engagement:

"The channel helps you make the most of your life"

1. The Weather Channel
2. DIY
3. Food Network
5. Fine Living
6. The Travel Channel
7. National Geographic
8. BBC America (Tie)
8. TLC (Tie)
10. CNN

"The channel helps you make the most of your life"

"It inspires you to buy new things"

1. DIY
2. Fine Living
3. Food Network
4. Style
6. TLC
7. ABC (Tie)
7. BBC America (Tie)
9. Hallmark Channel
10. WE

"More inclined to buy products advertised on this channel"

1. Fine Living
2. DIY
3. Food Network
5. Style (Tie)
6. TLC (Tie)
7. Hallmark (Tie)
7. National Geographic (Tie)
9. The Travel Channel
10. Oxygen

Source: Simmons Market Research Bureau for Scripps Networks.
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