Housing Starts

Why Home-Improvement Shows Are Selling Big

Is now a good time to buy a house? Watch a cluster of shows in the home-improvement neighborhood, and you’d certainly think so.

Cable viewers are buying into home sales and renovation programming as the improving housing market elevates viewer interest in the genre.

Housing-themed shows such as Bravo’s Million Dollar Listings: Los Angeles, Discovery Channel’s Property Wars and A&E’s Flipping Boston are driving viewership in the genre, while home-renovation and decorating focused HGTV and DIY are enjoying double-digit year-to- year audience growth that parallels the rebound in U.S. home purchases.

“We have experienced some robust ratings growth recently, and I’m sure the housing market and improving economy is contributing to that,” Kathleen Finch, HGTV and DIY president, said.

Rising ratings for real-estate shows are coinciding with a rise in the overall housing market. After the disastrous downslide of 2007 to 2010 — which included a record 2.8 million foreclosures, according to foreclosure database RealtyTrac — existing home sales have posted year-to-year increases for the past 25 months, the National Association of Realtors has reported.


The slowly improving economy and record low interest rates have pushed once-reluctant home buyers off the sidelines, particularly on the high end of the market, industry observers said.

Indeed, bidding wars for expensive properties showcased on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing: Los Angeles are up significantly during the show’s sixth and most recent season compared to the late 2000s, when the housing bubble burst, senior vice president of current production and original programming Shari Levine said. Million Dollar Listing: LA tracks the business and professional lives of three high-end realtors in California.

“There was certainly exuberance in the marketplace that we showed on air in our series,” Levine said. “The guys were really successful and they had a great year.” That success also showed in the ratings: Million Dollar Listing has averaged a serieshigh 1.3 million viewers this season, up 29% from season five’s previous benchmark.

“There was a concern when the market was down about how people would react to seeing real estate shows on our air,” said Levine. “They’re doing great now.”

In fact, Bravo’s other housing-themed series, including a New York spinoff of Million Dollar Listing and home-improvement show Flipping Out, are hammering down record-setting seasons in 2013, Levine said.

“You can clearly see the market rallying back in our shows,” she said.

To be sure, it’s not clear how long this uptick in the market will last, or if it is sustainable. It was an exuberant market — to which home-flipping shows contributed, some have said — that helped bring the housing sector to its knees six years ago.

That’s why Scripps Networks-owned services HGTV and DIY — both of which have experienced significant viewership growth during this year’s housing uptick — have sought to insulate with more fastpaced genre shows hosted by smart and telegenic housing experts that appeal to their target female demo.

Shows like Property Brothers, in which twin real-estate specialists Drew and Jonathan Scott help couples find and often renovate homes within their budget; Love It or List It, in which realtor David Visentin and designer Hilary Farr compete to see who will influence a homeowners’ decision to renovate or sell their home; and Flip or Flop, which follows novice house-flippers Tarek and Christina El Moussa as they buy, renovate and sell property, have helped place HGTV among the 12 most-watched cable networks in primetime and the top 10 cable networks among women 25-54 during second-quarter 2013, Finch said.

HGTV’s primetime audience was up 10% this summer to 1.3 million viewers. The network just wrapped up its best-ever second quarter in primetime, averaging 1.2 million viewers — a double-digit increase from 2012, according to Nielsen.

DIY has shifted from the often-tedious instructional fare that once dominated its schedule, focusing instead on such personality- driven series as Kitchen Crashers, starring interior designer Alison Victoria. The move lifted primetime ratings by 30% this summer, to a record 150,000 viewers.

Even the brand of rapper Vanilla Ice has been renovated by DIY. He’s featured in two series — The Vanilla Ice Project, where the popstar- turned-contractor and crew renovate aging homes, and Vanilla Ice Goes Amish, set to launch Oct. 12. In that series, the ’90s icon learns craftsmanship from a closeknit Amish community in Ohio.

“We found ways to expand our content well beyond just watching rooms get decorated, and it’s bringing in a really broad audience,” Finch said. “While viewers tune in if they are buying and selling a home, once they get to the network and see all that we have to offer, they’re hooked and keep coming back regardless of what their interest maybe in the housing market on that particular day.”

Still, a burgeoning housing market certainly provides such content a major ratings boost. Housing-based shows appeal to the viewer’s desire to own their dream house, Bravo’s Levine said, and an improving economy only enhances such fantasies.


“There’s a fantasy about walking through someone else’s space and thinking, ‘this could be me and what would my life be like if it was me’ — a lot of people do that,” Levine said. “It’s a voyeuristic way to experience our fantasy house and try it on for size.”

Finch said she believes other networks will look to cash in on the genre. Indeed, A+E Networks is considering housing shows as staple programming for a future rebrand of Bio into a broader, lifestyle- themed channel. The rebrand would differentiate Bio from A+E’s bigger, more established, general entertainment-based services such as A&E, History and Lifetime, sources close to the network said. A+E executives would not comment.

“Television is a very faddish business, but fads will come and go,” Finch said. “At our core, we will always be dedicated to home-improvement programming, regardless of how the market performs.”


As the U.S. housing market rebounds, real estate-themed shows are also rising in the Nielsen ratings.