It’s not a leading economic indicator. But Scripps Networks CEO Kenneth Lowe says that programming on his cable channel HGTV “had to be turned on its head” when the housing bubble burst a few years ago. Viewers suddenly wanted to know how to flip their house, not just how to make it beautiful. But things are changing, he hopes: “As we slowly build the housing market back, it will have a positive effect on HGTV.” So will improvements at the network’s popular show House Hunters, where ratings have softened. “Stabilization is the key word” for that show, Lowe says. That concept is important for all of Scripps’ lifestyle-focused services. When it comes to advertising, “we’re not seeing a lot of things to be concerned about, but we’re watching along with the rest of the industry,” says Lori Hickok, EVP Finance. Lowe’s upbeat, though, because he says Scripps’ channels are “the female equivalent of ESPN. They’re must-have. … The passion and connection that female viewers have for these networks is second to none.” Even among those viewers, Scripps saw a shift last year to sports programming, which Lowe says “was a little unusual.” He attributes that to the growing appeal of live shows. “The good news for us is we’re not seeing any (more) loss to sports programming. It is what it is.”
Meanwhile, the company says it hopes to buy Tribune’s 31% stake in Food Network once the media company is no longer under bankruptcy protection. Lowe also plans to build the Travel Channel. “I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about a new channel in quite a while,” he says adding that it “could be up with Food and HGTV in a few years.” But he has a lot of work to do at Great American Country as he moves it away from country music videos and toward programs that feature NASCAR and rodeos. “The network is relevant,” he says. “We’re going to research the living country brand, but it has its limitations.” The channel is distributed to 62.8M pay TV homes, and operators only pay about 3 cents a month for each home it reaches, SNL Kagan estimates.