Under a new general manager, TLC will broaden its programming scope beyond home improvement, to areas ranging from self-help to forensics, the chief of Discovery Networks U.S. said last week.
Billy Campbell, president of Discovery Networks, said he’s looking for new TLC chief David Abraham to take programming risks and move away from the network’s dependence on décor fix-it shows such as the former hit Trading Spaces, whose ratings have plummeted.
“There was an overreliance on the home-makeover area,” Campbell said. “People say, 'You overran Trading Spaces.’ Whatever criticism people want to levy, I’ll accept that and I’ll take responsibility for it. But that’s not what really hurt [TLC].
“What really ended up hurting was the combination of five shows in that genre. So almost anywhere you turned, it was a little bit of sameness … By doing that, we didn’t have enough in the pipeline in our R&D to come and say, 'What are the new genres?’ ”
Earlier this month, Campbell named Abraham, who had been serving as general manager of Discovery’s nine British channels, to replace Roger Marmet, who left the channel last month over differences in terms of the direction the beleaguered network should take.
Abraham is one of three general managers Campbell has plucked from the United Kingdom. Last week, Campbell appointed British Broadcasting Corp. and Channel 4 veteran Patrick Younge as executive vice president and GM of Travel Channel, a slot that’s been vacant since Rick Rodriguez left the network in July.
Younge said he worked with Discovery Channel general manager Jane Root when they were both at BBC2. Campbell recruited Root into Discovery’s fold as well.
During Abraham’s tenure in Great Britain, the Discovery networks’ audience share doubled. Abraham, who wasn’t available for comment, was an ad executive before joining Discovery.
“He comes with a great background for what this job’s meant to be,” Campbell said of Abraham. “I think one of the things that we have to do on the channel — that we probably were remiss in not doing — was to make sure that we take a lot more risks, try things, push the envelope and not rely so much on the home-makeover area.
“We’ll continue to do great shows in that area, and we’ll innovate there, like we’ve done with … Town Haul.”
TLC has to tap other genres, according to Campbell, including health, travel and science, as well as tackle “the legal world, the justice world. … We’ve got some things we’re very excited about in terms of quirky lifestyles that people have around the country.”
Campbell said The New York Times bestseller list is chock full of books on self-help, from health to relationships.
“We need to find ways to take that from the written page and demonstrate it visually,” Campbell said. “Let’s get back to the basics, which are, 'This is The Learning Channel.’
“And what does that mean? That all learning is wide open. It’s completely a sort of open-ended field, and we’re going to do things that tie into our motto or mantra, which is 'Life Unscripted.’ ”
TLC’s primetime ratings last year dropped 27% to a 0.8, according to Nielsen Media Research data. As a result of the underdelivery, TLC advertisers are receiving make-goods, Campbell confirmed.
Travel Channel is not caught in the downward spiral that has engulfed TLC. Last year, its total-day and primetime household ratings averages were flat, at a 0.2 and 0.4, respectively, according to Nielsen.
“We have the pre-eminent travel brand. The platform I’m building from is very strong,” said Younge, who want to take the net to the next level.
First approached about the job last summer, Younge joins Travel after serving as head of programs and planning for BBC Sport since 2001.
He was directly responsible for scheduling over 1,000 hours of sports output annually on BBC1 and BBC2, and delivered 61% growth in average match audiences for its international rugby portfolio since 2002. Prior to that, Younge spent two years at Channel 4.
“I’ve only three years of sports at the BBC,” Younge said. “Before that I did news, current affairs, documentaries. I’ve worked in a range of genres for a range of broadcasters.”
Younge thinks he has a personal affinity for the travel-programming genre.
“My family’s from the Caribbean,” he said. “I was brought up in Britain. I’ve got family all over North America and Canada. Travel is very much as part of my life. And a lot of the stuff I did when I was at the BBC and Channel 4 had very much travel at its core.”