Scripps Goes Country


Don’t bet against E. W. Scripps Co. CEO Ken Lowe, who 10 years ago successfully launched Home & Garden Television at a time when cable operators were hoarding analog slots for deep-pocketed players, like Rupert Murdoch, who paid hefty launch fees to get Fox News launched back then.

And last week, Lowe bought himself a little anniversary present, if you will — the Great American Country channel for $140 million in cash.

To me, just how this country-music video network, with its 34 million subscribers, fits into the Scripps stable of lifestyle channels is a bit of a stretch.

But like I said, I wouldn’t bet against Lowe, who has successfully grown his cable-programming division from one lone channel to six, counting GAC.

Lowe has HGTV, Food Network, Do It Yourself, Fine Living, Shop at Home, and now GAC. Clearly there’s an obvious synergy among the first five networks — especially if you think of the very real possibilities of being able to buy home-centric products on Shop at Home.

But country-music videos? It could work, because GAC already has some lifestyle segments that Lowe could easily augment. Not that anyone at Scripps thinks GAC is broken. The good thing for the folks at GAC is Lowe and his team are not pirates taking over the ship.

Instead, Lowe will keep GAC’s current management in place and keep the existing team in their present Denver headquarters. And lucky for GAC, its new owner is on a roll, with the cable-networks division reporting a 58% increase in profit for the quarter.

That growth came from big pops in advertising revenue and affiliate fees.

I can almost predict how Lowe will immediately tweak GAC. For starters, Lowe is in the enviable position of owning all of the programming that currently appears on his networks. That means he can shuffle the deck any which way and repurpose programming to enhance GAC.

For example, not that I want one, but HGTV aired this amazing segment on a growing trend: the uptick in recreational-vehicle sales. Have you noticed how many of those “homes on the road” there are, often pulling Cadillac sedan “dinghys” on the highway?

The HGTV segment showed the full range of RVs, with pricetags as high as a cool $1 million. That RV’s kitchen was bigger than some of the most toney kitchens in New York apartments, and just as well-appointed, with the ubiquitous stainless-steel Sub-zero refrigerator and granite counter tops.

My point is that this RV program is done, paid for and could easily translate to the GAC demo, women and adults 25 to 54. Take a look at how many women are at the wheel of those RVs these days.

Where things might be more iffy for Lowe is GAC’s core programming proposition: music videos. GAC faces stiff competition from MTV Networks’ CMT: Country Music Television, which is close to full distribution.

So the battle of the banjos begins, and this time I’m betting on Lowe.