DECEMBER 2009 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:
* Bold denotes programming change
It's worth studying this network's primetime grid. While it looks simple, it works very nicely in both directions - across the week, so viewers get a feel for what to expect at times of night... and vertically, to provide flow, so they'll stay around, even build, through any given night. As a result, we typically don't see any drastic swings in audience from night to night, or program to program. The network's formulaic programming, with its neat stories wrapped up in 30 minutes (including commercial-time) is a safe, lulling haven for aspirational home designers, fixers and purchasers.
HGTV's schedule is built entirely with half hour series. Only four titles appear more than twice a week (HOUSE HUNTERS, HOUSE HUNTERS INT'L, PROPERTY VIRGINS, and MY FIRST PLACE). Most titles -- and remember, these are half hours -- appear only once in a week, and a handful appear twice per month.
Imagine the challenges of scheduling a home improvement network through the last year and a half. HGTV responded quickly to the imploding real estate market with recession-responsive titles such as FOR RENT and BANG FOR YOUR BUCK.
What to do now, if the real estate market really has started moving up? Competitive reality works here as well as anywhere, and it's usually served up with a softer touch. The new focus for the new year will rely more on the hosts and strong personalities that tend to drive veiwership, no matter what the subject matter.
"What you will also see next year is us adding more personality driven shows - not only with our hosts, but also our homeowners," Freddy James, HGTV SVP said. "It's not just about how the home is changing, but it's about how their lives change in those environments. By telling those stories and broadening that net of storytelling, we feel like we'll be able to serve our audiences in a much better way."
DECEMBER 2009 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / December 2009 vs. December 2008 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
December 2008 was a low-point in HGTV history. The programming was still reflecting the boom-years, with big renovations and luxury-focused aspirational programming, and ratings fell. The network introduced a new line-up in January that capitalized on both the success of the HOUSE HUNTERS franchise and the changed focus of home-ownership with programs like INCOME PROPERTY and BANG FOR YOUR BUCK. Which all explains why we see big increases in numbers vs. last December. However, there are also slight decreases vs. November, indicating a loss of momentum.
At the end of 2009 we still find HOUSE HUNTERS at the top of the ratings heap, out-performing all other programs on all demos. Of HGTV's top 20 telecasts by household ratings, HOUSE HUNTERS placed 15 times, including numbers one through eight. With 49 telecasts of HOUSE HUNTERS and 21 telecasts of second-ranked HOUSE HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL, the franchise accounts for more than 40% of primetime programming.
December traditionally brings some annual holiday specials to HGTV. Most successful were CELEBRITY HOLIDAY HOME and WHITE HOUSE CHRISTMAS, which helped to boost Sunday night's numbers by 10%. But those two specials were the exception. Most specials under-performed the network average.
New homeowner programs PROPERTY VIRGINS and MY FIRST PLACE were the other two shows with a decent amount of primetime real estate on HGTV in December. PROPERTY VIRGINS shows strong improvements over last year (+24%) and last month (+6%), while MY FIRST PLACE shows slight declines (-4% and -2%).
Another program of note is HOLMES ON HOMES, which is slowly increasing its primetime presence. The show is actually the top-rated among men.
Recession-themed programs INCOME PROPERTY, BANG FOR YOUR BUCK and FOR RENT continue to hold one or two runs each week. As a group, they are slightly down vs. last month. Are viewers ready to move past the down times and onto their dream homes? Attempting to build on the moderate growth it has achieved this year (+9% according to the network), HGTV will take the next step and start to design programs that emphasize the people over the process. Whether it be programming hosts, homebuyers or homeowners, the network will start to gain some personality. Stay tuned, as we see the 2010 line-up unfold.
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
HGTV plans to ratchet it up a notch this year. The network's top show, HGTV DESIGN STAR will be getting a make-over of its own. Mark Burnett has been brought in to bring his magic to the program in its 5th season. In the big picture, a new direction has been announced whereby programs will shift from focusing on the process of home buying to featuring big personalities.
Says HGTV senior vice president of program development and production Freddy James, "What you will also see next year is us adding more personality driven shows - not only with our hosts, but also our homeowners," James said. "It's not just about how the home is changing, but it's about how their lives change in those environments. By telling those stories and broadening that net of storytelling, we feel like we'll be able to serve our audiences in a much better way."
HGTV stays current by covering the aspects of home design and commerce that are most attractive to today's homeowners. While the HGTV viewer wants to be on top of the latest design trends, she/he is also mindful of the home's market value. This is exemplified by the popularity of HOUSE HUNTERS and sibling series HOUSE HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL. Selling one's home, owning more than one home, etc. are very real concerns for the average HGTV viewer. Successful property-related shows on HGTV feature the stories of real people finding real success (and failure) when buying, selling and improving the value of their homes.
In 2009, programming's focus on real estate shifted to the actual transaction. Details that affect home value: kitchens and bathrooms, color choices are secondary. Also, while the real estate reality genre is being exploited on competitor nets TLC and Bravo, HGTV brings in the largest audiences for these programs. It's very important to note HGTV's focus on personal stories rather than just the numbers.
Official word is that web-exclusive content is a priority - not only footage that was not seen on-air, but overall content ideas that transition easily from TV to the Internet and take advantage of each platform. However a quick look at HGTV.com shows a preference for design-oriented content while a quick look at the primetime line-up shows the aforementioned preference for real estate.
The network prefers to think of itself as lifestyle and reality oriented, leaving traditional how-to programming for sister net DIY and the HGTV.com website.