Long reads

Lifestyle choices

Channel operators are well aware that one way of appealing to women is to invest in lifestyle programming. Andy Fry looks at the role genres including the home, wellbeing and fashion are playing in the pay-TV industry.

Look up the word lifestyle in a dictionary and you will not see a reference to women. But there’s no question that the lifestyle section of the typical pay-TV electronic programme guide (EPG) plays an important part in wooing female demographics.

Sure, there are testosterone-charged exceptions such as Discovery Shed and Discovery Real Time. But the emphasis is primarily on female-skewed subject-matter such as the home, wellbeing and fashion. Other topics like food, travel and arts may appeal to a certain kind of guy – but you can be sure there are also a decent number of ladies present in the room.

“There’s a tendency to think of pay-TV being built around sport, movies and news,” says Greg Moyer, president of Scripps Networks International, owner of lifestyle channels including the Food Network, Home & Garden TV and Fine Living Network (FLN). “But we know first-hand how important it is to have a high-quality offer for female viewers.”
Moyer points to a recent dispute between Scripps in the US and powerful New York Cable platform Cablevision. “Cablevision took the Food Network and HGTV out of three million homes during a dispute over carriage fees. But within three weeks, complaints from customers were so vocal that the channels were back on. I think they underestimated the number of women who write the utilities bills.”

In EMEA, Scripps is currently prioritising the international roll out of the Food Network and FLN – and once again the appeal of the networks to women is a trump card: “We don’t position Food Network as a female network,” says Moyer. “But there’s no question that the channel is a great way for advertisers to target upscale female viewers. In the US, around 55-60% of the audience is women.”


FLN is more clearly aimed at women, says Moyer: “It’s a full-spectrum lifestyle channel, covering areas like food, homes, style, travel and wellbeing – all verticals we know well in the US. We’ve done a deal with Chellomedia which gives FLN the 2.6m distribution footprint of a channel called Zone Club – in return for some equity and shared control.”
Moyer says FLN is a bit like a women’s consumer magazine on TV. “But it’s not like the younger magazines, which have made sex advice a big part of their editorial proposition. It skews towards a slightly older audience of around 25-54 years-old.”

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There are reasons for this. “One is that we want to reach out to the kind of aspirational women that appeal to advertisers, women who want to taste the finer things in life. The other is that we have entered the market with a pan-regional feed – and it’s hard to programme all of EMEA in a way that is suitable for all female viewers in the younger demographic.”

There’s a similar philosophy at Comcast International Media Group (CIMG), where international rollout is being driven by E! Entertainment, the Style Network and the Golf Channel, which is beyond the remit of this piece but relevant in terms of the way major players are thinking. “We don’t position E! as a female channel,” says Duccio Donati, executive vice-president at CIMG, “It’s a popular culture, celebrity, Hollywood channel. But we recognise women are more likely to tune in.”

The trick is to make sure that men give their passive permission for the channel to stay on – rather than throwing a sulk at the first sight of a red carpet, he says. “E!’s flagship shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians tend to attract women first – but we know that young male audiences also watch them.”
The story with The Style Network is different: “Here we have a network that is based around the idea of transformation – whether that be at home, in relationships or through lifestyle. So the target is more clearly defined as a young female audience,” Donati says.

He agrees with Moyer that this has a value to pay-TV platforms: “Channels which target women have a clear role to play alongside male-oriented and children’s channels. So we definitely see scope to take The Style Network beyond its current 13 million homes. We’ve just launched in Australia and I see room to grow in Europe’s main markets.”

Crowded market

The big question, of course, is how do you stand out in this era of hundreds of channels? With female-skewing content available via free-to-air channels and the entertainment section of the EPG, how much more transformational TV can we consume? “The key is always the programming,” says Donati. “We have a show called Ruby, which is about the weight loss journey of a 400lb woman. It’s a great character-driven story which deals with  relatable issues like health, dating and going out”.

So prevalent is lifestyle programming that it’s easy to forget that it used to be just another sub-set of the factual channel line-up on EPGs. “A few years ago, a number of factors came together which allowed the lifestyle sector to go it alone,” says AETN International senior vice-president Sean Cohan: “The arrival of lightweight cameras and digital editing opened the way for a new kind of real-life programming based more around access, storytelling, makeovers. This happened at about the time that the factual channel providers were trying to spread their influence beyond their core genre into other EPG sections.”

Today AETN International is responding to the same audience imperatives as its rivals. While History Channel is resolutely male, the stuffy-sounding Biography Channel has been reinvented as the softer and more friendly Bio, a channel that now skews 55-60% female thanks to a greater emphasis on stories about Hollywood stars and fashion icons – told in the more informal style we now associate with lifestyle TV.

Even more significant is the fact that AETNI has just acquired Lifetime, one of the most important female-skewing cable networks in the US. “All of the audience segments are important to advertisers and platforms. So there’s no question that Lifetime plays a key role in our rebalancing act as a channel provider. Now we go all the way from History to Lifetime – with Bio, A&E and Crime & Investigation between in terms of audience profile.”

Cohan says AETNI will want to take Lifetime out internationally but stresses that it will not hurry it to market. “We’d rather wait a little while and make sure we get it right – rather that rush things out.”

AETNI probably won’t wait too long however. While Lifetime has the kudos necessary to make its mark outside the US, other trends are afoot which promise to make the lifestyle space as competitive as anywhere on the EPG. The most significant of these is Discovery’s decision to place significant extra resource behind the international rollout of TLC.
Industry old-timers will recall that TLC began life as The Learning Channel – a factual companion channel to Discovery. Today, however, the L In TLC clearly stands for lifestyle – a shift which has given the channel a renewed sense of purpose: “TLC US’s focus on lifestyle areas like food, fashion and home has really worked,” says Luis Silberwasser, who was recently appointed to the new role of international head of content for Discovery Networks International, a step up from his previous role as head of the Latin American content group.

Typical of the kind of show that works for TLC these days is LA Ink, Say Yes To Dress or Cake Boss, a reality show based around an Italian-American cake-maker. Echoing rivals, Silberwasser says: “It’s the kind of show that appeals to an 18-49 female demographic – but doesn’t exclude men.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the TLC story is that it has set itself the target of being “in more than 100 million households by Spring 2011, making it the most widely distributed female lifestyle channel brand in pay-TV”. That is an ambitious but achievable target, says Silberwasser: “It sounds like a lot, but you have to keep in mind that we already have a lot of channels that could be rebranded now that we have decided to put energy behind TLC.”
A good case in point might be the Latin American channel Home & Health, which has a similar remit to TLC. Silberwasser says this is one possibility – but not a decision that DNI has already made.

Over the years, Discovery has been a compulsive revamper of channels. But Silberwasser says that the company is now closer to having a settled portfolio: “You don’t have the right answer everytime,” he says, “but in brands like Discovery, Animal Planet, TLC and Science we are getting the kind of balance that we want. During the recession, when car and finance advertising was under pressure, I think we really saw the value of having a mixed portfolio.”
While the pan-regional lifestyle business is mostly in the hands of US channel operators, there is some competition from the UK’s BBC. BBC Lifestyle, available in Poland, Africa and Asia, was at MIP TV in Cannes last month picking up lifestyle titles including Battle Of The Brides for international services.

The BBC’s lifestyle business is able to draw on the strong pool of lifestyle programming available out of the UK, notably Jamie Oliver shows from FremantleEnterprises Enterprises. However its position at the heart of the Anglo-American distribution business means it can also fill out its schedule with shows that have worked in North America. From Optomen, for example, it picked up rights to Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmare USA and will air it on BBC Lifestyle from January 2011.

Explaining her acquisitions, Bun Scrase-Dickins, vice-president Acquisitions, BBC Worldwide Channels said they are “proven ratings winners, which will appeal to the diverse tastes of our viewers and demonstrate the breadth of programming on our channels.”

Engaging Audiences

However all the talk of relatable or engaging content does raise a big issue for Anglo-American lifestyle channels – which is how far they need to localise to attract audiences. After all, the term lifestyle implies some kind of localness.
At Chellomedia,  they have made it a core strategic mission to have a mix of local and pan-regional channels. “We believe in building channels based on a foundation of localised production” says Levante Malnay, MD of Central Europe at Chellomedia: “Leaving the male/female split to one side, we have built channels with a clear cultural identity which sit alongside our portfolio of wholly-owned and JV international channels.”

In Spain, for example, Chellomedia has Canal Cocina (cooking) and Decasa (DIY/home) and only last month acquired the Teuve portfolio from Ono; a deal that adds 12 channels and 2.2 million homes. Meanwhile in central and eastern Europe, Malnay’s patch, it has Paprika (cooking) and Deko (DIY/home). “We believe this is what makes our channels unique,” explains Malnay: “They have grown organically and reflect the needs of the market.”

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In the case of Deko, for example, “we have a clear understanding of how the market is changing. Twenty years ago, after the Berlin Wall came down, the emphasis was on owning things which made you look good. But now people are paying much more attention to their homes and neighbourhood – and that is something Deko is well-placed to tap into.”

This emphasis on localisation is one reason why Paprika (now in 3.5 million homes across Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania) has survived the onslaught of big US companies. Another is the fact that it was an early entrant, suggests Malnay, a fact which has enabled it to build up audience loyalty.

All of the US players are conscious of the issue – but they are trying to find the right line between localisation and business viability. Scripps’ Moyer, for example, says that the risk for niche channels is overspending on local content before the revenues roll. In terms of making a network work, you need to think pretty creatively about marketing.”
CIMG’s Donati makes a similar observation: “Even without spending money on local content, there are ways to engage your audience,” he says. “In the case of E!, a lot of thought goes into how different territories relate to Hollywood and celebrity. In the UK, there’s a tongue-in-cheek relationship with Hollywood which means we add humour. In France, the emphasis is more on glamour while in eastern Europe there’s still a strong aspirational feel.”

E!, of course, is a unique case – because it has Hollywood at its heart. But what about more day to day subjects? “For Style Network we are looking to increase acquisitions,” says Donati, “because we recognise our channels could benefit from that.” TLC’s Silberwasser makes a similar point: “I think the best lifestyle channels are a mixed of shows with universal and local appeal. There’s always room for some acquisitions and regionally-based production.”