MARCH 2010 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:
* Bold denotes programming change
Only four titles regularly appear more than twice a week on HGTV (HOUSE HUNTERS, HOUSE HUNTERS INT'L, PROPERTY VIRGINS, and MY FIRST PLACE)providing the foundation that the network is built on. These four shows continue to carry the majority of the primetime load, although a long list of new programs has been introduced to the schedule.
Most of these new programs can be found on the weekends (OUTDOOR ROOM, ANTONIO TREATMENT, SARAH'S HOUSE, CURB APPEAL: THE BLOCK). Notably, some new programs (MY FIRST SALE, SELLING NEW YORK, TOUGH AS NAILS and HOME RULES) are out of the typical HGTV mold, airing on weekday nights with a different spin on real estate than we are used to seeing from the net.
Sunday night is increasingly male. HOLMES ON HOMES draws in men, and they are sticking around for CURB APPEAL: THE BLOCK and THE ANTONIO TREATMENT, two other programs with male hosts.
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 any time of night... and vertically, to provide flow, so they'll stay around, even build, through the 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 is a safe, lulling haven for aspirational home designers, fixers and purchasers.
MARCH 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / March 2010 vs. March 2009 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
Let's start our March analysis by taking a step back. In recent years, HGTV programmers became hostage to the housing market ebbs and flows. When housing starts and prices were at their peak, programs were geared to high-end makeovers and luxury homes. During the heart of the recession programs were more austere. So what kind of programming is recession-proof? With its onslaught of spring programming, HGTV is betting on outrageous characters and reality competition. Will the strong on-air personalities hold audiences through various economic times, or will it be a literal turn-off for the audience that was used to the safe and lulling HGTV fare of happier and more prosperous times?
February's Winter Olympics took their toll on the net, revealing weaknesses in the HGTV schedule, particularly its heavy reliance on one program, HOUSE HUNTERS. The network drew its oldest audience on our records, and audience was at its lowest point since May of 2009, reversing all of its recent gains. In February, HGTV was coming off the PR bubble from January's Cablevision battle and was waiting for new graphics and the new series that were about to break in March,
And March numbers did rebound. Bottom line household audience is 10% higher than last year. That increase is driven by older audiences and men. While women 18-49 and 25-54 did not show bottom-line improvement vs. last year, household ratings grew by 10% and male ratings grew by over 20%. Compared to last month, household ratings improved by 10% as well, with 20%+ gains among men and 10% gains for women. The network retains its dominant female skew...only 35% of the audience is male. But last March 29% of the audience was male.
With 58 primetime telecasts between them, HOUSE HUNTERS and HOUSE HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL continue to dominate the schedule and set the pace of the network, while accounting for the majority of the top rated telecasts. Both HOUSE HUNTERS programs were up across the board vs. last month's sub-par performance. Compared to last year, they were basically flat on households, but down just under 10% on core women 25-54.
Among the new programming, there were definitely some success stories. On Thursday nights, MY FIRST SALE ran at 8:30, bumping the second run of MY FIRST PLACE. Both episodes of MY FIRST SALE drew over a 1 HH rating, technically making it the top rated program for the month. It easily topped MY FIRST PLACE and the lead-in and lead-out programs, even outpacing Thursday night's HOUSE HUNTERS and HOUSE HUNTERS INT'L in its second week.
New programs SELLING NEW YORK and TOUGH AS NAILS followed, each dropping audience from their lead-in. SELLING NEW YORK was off to a solid start, performing better than the network average on core women 25-54. TOUGH AS NAILS' primetime performance was sub-par. However, the program's premiere is on Wednesday late-night (11:30), surely pulling down the Thursday night primetime encores.
HOME RULES (new on Tuesday nights) and OUTDOOR ROOM (premiered in January on Saturday nights) are hanging at the bottom of the ratings ladder. HOME RULES goes outside the usual HGTV box by addressing clutter with a little psychology and a lot of redesign. And gardening programming never seems to draw in big primetime audiences, even with Jamie Durie and a room design spin attached. In the middle of the month GENEVIEVE bumped OUTDOOR ROOM to daytime.
Sunday night is the highest rated night of the week across the board. Compared to last year, women are flat while male ratings are up by more than 50%. Compared to last month, women are up by about 50% while male ratings are nearly double. Mike Holmes is at the root of this growth. The network is running a big promotional campaign around HOLMES ON HOMES' new season, and it is paying off. Lead-out program THE ANTONIO TREATMENT is losing about half of HOLMES audience. But it is benefiting from the strong male audience. On household ratings ANTONIO ranks 16th out of 19 shows this month, but on men 25-54 it ranks second, behind HOLMES.
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
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. While programming still centers on middle-class home sales and improvements, a new layer of reality show hype and "strong personalities" is apparent in much of the new primetime fare for 2010.
"What you will also see...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."
The new programming is off to a mixed start, with some hits and some misses. Tricky times lie ahead for the network as it needs to decide when to act quickly and prune underperforming programs, vs. when to let them blossom and find their audience.
With HOLMES on HOMES drawing in strong male comps, the only growth demo vs. last year, HGTV has an opportunity to embrace its masculine side and start introducing more programming with male hosts.