HGTV has emerged as one of the most-watched networks among viewers obeying stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Discovery-owned channel has parlayed its popular original content, geared toward home renovation and house-flipping, to become the most-watched entertainment network in primetime for March. It averaged 1.1 million viewers, behind only Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNN, according to Nielsen.
HGTV president Jane Latman spoke with Multichannel News about HGTV’s ratings success during the pandemic and its long-term programming strategy. Here’s an edited transcript of the interview.
MCN: What has been the secret behind HGTV’s ratings success?
Jane Latman: People are watching more HGTV because it’s a very comforting brand and a great place to go. For people who are home, it's actually very relevant. In March, we created a spot with our talent who were all at home, and we were shouting out to the audience that we’re all in this together.
MCN: Has the network exhausted most of its new episodes in the wake of the coronavirus production shutdown?
JL: We haven’t exhausted it at all. There’s all the stuff that we have in post-production that will still be coming in, and we have some shows that we were able to finish through self-shooting. Shows such as Home Town, Unsellable Houses, Property Brothers Forever Home, Flipping 101 and Celebrity IOU are all still in premieres. We are pretty well-positioned, but now we’re planning for when the gap in production comes down the road. We’re repackaging our shows in a number of ways. For example, we have Jonathan and Drew [Scott] watching the first couple of seasons of their [Property Brothers] show, and have them talk about how the designs have changed and how their appearances have changed since then. Viewers will watch them watch the show. We’re also working with our talent to discover which episodes from their shows are their favorites. We’ll show those episodes with a wrap from the stars as to why these episodes are so important to them in their minds and in their hearts. We’ve also been licensing lifestyles/home content from Canada, the U.K., Australia and other countries. It has to meet a certain bar, but that will help to feed the pipeline as well.
MCN: Does HGTV, with its targeted and loyal fan base, have an audience retention advantage over general entertainment networks at this time?
JL: I think so. That speaks to how HGTV is comforting during these times. People know what they are going to get with HGTV; it feels good and it’s welcoming. That works for both our current and older titles. We had a bunch of premieres of [long-running series] House Hunters that we were scheduling irregularly. We soon discovered that there was some traction of the series since the COVID-19 outbreak, so we scheduled it regularly now at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights after not having a regular time slot in months. We’re now putting promotional materials around it and it's doing great. That speaks to the familiarity of House Hunters and the desire of viewers to get back to programming that’s familiar and not stressful.