Coming off a record-setting 2015, HGTV has continued to thrive in January, setting a network primetime ratings record with an average of 1.7 million viewers — third-best among all basic cable networks for the month. Leading that charge is Fixer Upper, the home-renovation series starring real estate pros Chip and Joanna Gaines, which has averaged more than 3 million viewers since it launched its third season in December.
HGTV general manager Allison Page spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the Scripps-owned network’s blueprint for success — and what shows coming up might break out next. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: HGTV has jumped out to a strong ratings start in 2016. What’s fueling the network’s recent ratings momentum?
Allison Page: January has started off with a bang for us. We were No. 2 among women 25-54 for the month, No. 5 in cable and No. 1 on weekends. January was the best month in the history of the network by 12% in terms of adults 25-54. I think what’s happening is everything is working — we’re firing on all cylinders. This is not a story of one show or one night, but it’s a story of seven nights and a dozen shows all working and performing at their highest levels. There are newer shows, like Fixer Upper and Flip or Flop; there are still some older shows that remain beloved, including Property Brothers, House Hunters; and there’s our great Sunday-night lineup of fantasy destination programming with Beach Front Bargain Hunt, Caribbean Life and Island Life.
MCN: While your success may not be about one show, Fixer Upper seems to be leading the pack. How has that show endeared itself to viewers so quickly?
AP: It’s a perfect combination of engaging hosts and a gorgeous renovation every single episode. It’s relatable and fun, and Joanna’s style is wildly appealing — she’s a distinctive talent that has really broken out.
MCN: Has the strategy of building thematic nights, like your Sunday fantasy destination programming, delivered audiences more effectively?
AP: Viewers come to us because they know what HGTV is, and they come to get that every single night. It’s not a different network on Tuesday than it is on Thursday. We’ve created an environment where viewers love and are familiar with what we do. Plus, we lead all of cable in the number of premieres, so it’s not only the shows that they love but it’s also the large number of premiere episodes of the shows they love. We’re giving viewers fresh content that they know they love, so it’s a combination of familiar, relatable and fresh all in one.
MCN: How do you now maintain that ratings momentum?
AP: I think we just keep doing what we’re doing. I think our secret sauce is really the amount of development that we do. Keeping that pipeline filled so that we have enough episodes coming in, enough talent, enough pilots and enough first runs of series is important. If we’re not filling it fast enough there will be a hole at some point, but what we’re doing now will ensure that two years from now we won’t have a hole.
We’re sticking with what we know and we’re looking at categories like restorations, rehabs, selling and flipping of properties, fantasy destination programming. We have two new shows, one is called Good Bones, which premieres in March, as well as Listed Sisters. Good Bones features a mother-daughter renovation flipping team that buys homes that are [in serious disrepair]. With Listed Sisters, stars Lex and Alana [LeBlanc] are renovating houses in [Nashville]. We love having new shows and new locations because in addition to fresh talent, it’s a fresh perspective and it all fits within that world.
MCN: Other networks have jumped on the property rehab bandwagon with their own original series. Do you worry the genre may reach a saturation point?
AP: I think viewers love the genre, and when they love a show in the genre, the first thing they think of is HGTV, no matter where they’re watching it. We have not seen a slowing down of interest; actually, it’s quite the opposite, even as there have been competing programs on other networks. I would say that that hunger is not satiated.