2016 produced some surprising rating numbers for TV networks.
But none was more shocking than the network that beat CNN in the ratings chase.
And their strategy to top the left-leaning cable news network left many media watchers in disbelief.
HGTV ended 2016 as the third most watched cable channel, behind only ESPN and Fox News.
For all the talk of boosted ratings the historic Presidential election gave the cable news networks, CNN still lagged behind the home and gardening channel.
So what was the secret to HGTV’s success?
The network airs 23 different shows about flipping houses.
But they don’t focus their content on coastal metropolises such as New York and Los Angeles.
Scripps Networks Interactive CEO, Kevin Lowe, says the Nashville, Tennessee based network focuses on the “real America”.
“Since the mid-1990s, HGTV has made its home in a low-slung building about 15 minutes outside of downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. Like HGTV itself, the offices feature some homespun touches. The walls of Scripps Chief Executive Officer Ken Lowe’s office feature framed press clippings from the local newspaper, the Knoxville News Sentinel. Nearby, a 96-square-foot tiny house — a feature of several HGTV shows — has been decorated to look like a gingerbread house.
The last year has been vindicating for Lowe. When he started HGTV in 1994, few people thought anyone would watch his network “about grass growing and paint drying,” he says. For a while, Time Warner Cable wouldn’t even carry the channel in New York City, because, he was told, the metropolitan audience wasn’t interested.
Lowe shrugged it off. Walking the aisles of Home Depot Inc. and Lowe’s Cos. stores around the country, he had identified an audience that was passionate about their houses.
“If you watch a lot of our competitors, it’s about bling-y expensive real estate in New York or crazy flipping in L.A.,” said Scripps chief programming officer Kathleen Finch. “For the most part, our viewers live in suburban houses with yards. We embrace the real America.”
That’s a sharp contrast to CNN.
Even though CNN did set a record for ratings, it still wasn’t enough to overcome HGTV’s audience-friendly fare.
Bloomberg also reports that HGTV isn’t going to bait and switch their viewers, nor present a product they aren’t expecting:
“Finch is the gatekeeper of HGTV’s aesthetic. A former CBS News producer, she sees her job as a form of journalism, aiming to entertain and inform viewers. After 17 years with Scripps, she preaches the value of consistency. “We super-serve our viewer what she likes, and we give her more and more of it,” said Finch.
Among the most popular shows, she aims for a new episode every week and stretches the network’s franchises and talent. Two of HGTV’s biggest stars are Drew and Jonathan Scott, handsome twins from Vancouver who buy and renovate fixer-uppers, and the network makes sure they’re rarely idle. While one Scott might be filming part of “Property Brothers,” the other might be elsewhere to shoot part of another show, “Buying and Selling…
…“We’re not going to surprise you,” Lowe said. “We’re not going to throw you a curve ball. It’s not easy to create content that people are passionate about and somewhat addicted to that is somewhat repetitive.”
Their clean, family friendly shows were appealing enough to overcome even the boom seen in cable news ratings.
With cable news ratings likely to recede now that the election is over, it’s a good bet HGTV will continue to best CNN in ratings for 2017.