Making it with Men

Ten years ago, a quick scan of a local newsstand led one to believe that men only bought special-interest lifestyle magazines - ones with shiny cars, power tools or big fish on the cover. Profitable general-interest magazines were a uniquely female phenomenon. But, that was 10 years ago.
July 1, 2003

Ten years ago, a quick scan of a local newsstand led one to believe that men only bought special-interest lifestyle magazines – ones with shiny cars, power tools or big fish on the cover. Profitable general-interest magazines were a uniquely female phenomenon. But, that was 10 years ago.

Today, the selection of men’s titles is vast and varied. Most significantly, the launch and subsequent success of lifestyle magazines such as Maxim and Wallpaper have helped redefine the modern man. He still loves cars and gadgets, but he also wants to know about fashion, design trends and health. He drinks beer, but can appreciate a good mojito and is happy to learn that the hotel he booked for his vacation has a spa.

Television, it seems, is finally catching up with the print world. ‘There’s a misconception that when someone says ‘lifestyle programming,’ they immediately think female-skewing,’ says Michael Dingley, senior vice president of programming for HGTV, the home and garden channel

of Knoxville, U.S.-based Scripps Networks. ‘That may have been the case in the past, [but] the success of the programming a lot of networks are doing is putting that to rest.’

Today, lifestyle programs, especially those shooting for primetime (daytime viewers are still mostly female), need to appeal to both men and women. Shows don’t need to achieve this equally – inevitably programs will skew one way or the other – but they also can’t alienate one gender in an effort to lure the other. The result is a new hybrid of programming that acknowledges the more sophisticated, more worldly and more aesthetically astute modern man.

Reinventing masculine

Attracting the male demographic to lifestyle programming doesn’t mean producers have to venture into completely uncharted territory. Often, it’s all in the approach.

Presenters are a key ingredient. Germaine Deagan, VP of sales and distribution for Tremendous Entertainment in Minnetonka, U.S., admits food shows sometimes struggle to attract male viewers. But for the prodco’s Bizarre Foods – a US$250,000 copro with Discovery Travel Channel U.S. that investigates exotic foods around the world – host Andrew Zimmern helps the program appeal to men’s palates. ‘The best way to describe him is 50% Emeril and 50% truck driver,’ she says. ‘He has the knowledge that females like, but the demeanor, sense of humor and energy that appeal to men.’

Barbara Zaneri agrees that humor is important for programming that targets male viewers. Zaneri is the senior VP of program planning and acquisition for Spike TV. Formerly TNN, the New York-based cable channel was repositioned in June as a network for men.

Says Zaneri, ‘Men are telling us, ‘We’re interested in health, we’re interested in lifestyle, we’re interested in how to plan a vacation, but we want you to tell us about it the way we look at life in general,’ which is in a humorous and ironic way. It gives [men] more of a comfort level, so they’re okay with watching that kind of stuff.’

Lifestyle programming is sprinkled throughout Spike TV’s schedule, which attracts an audience that’s 65% male and 35% female. Starting January 2004, the channel will add a men’s lifestyle block on weekends, both in primetime and late-night. Zaneri says Spike is also beginning to produce original lifestyle programs, although it still acquires most of its shows. She notes, however, that the pickings are slim: ‘From an acquisition standpoint, there isn’t a lot out there to choose from. If producers have a product that fits into our programming strategy, which is men 18 to 49, they should bring it on. I don’t care where it comes from.’

Among Spike TV’s planned lifestyle offerings are A Guy and His Stuff and Men’s Health Minutes, two interstitial programs that adapt the editorial content of men’s magazines Stuff and Men’s Health, respectively, for the small screen. The Scene, a reality-inspired program about designing the next ‘it’ spot, is another.

How a concept is packaged also keeps men from hunting for alternatives. HGTV’s Dingley recalls how five years ago the cablecaster’s design and makeover shows rated well with women. ‘But,’ he says, ‘we were thinking there must be ways to do design and makeover shows that are appointment-watching for men too.’

The result was Designing for the Sexes, a show launched in 1998 that sees men and women trying to reconcile opposing decorating ideas. ‘Men watch that show with their girlfriend or wife and say, ‘I can totally relate,” says Dingley. HGTV – which supports average budgets of about $42,000 per 30-minute episode of a primetime series and $75,000 to $100,000 for a one-hour single in primetime – now has several design programs that reach a significant male audience, including Designers’ Challenge, Curb Appeal and Design on a Dime.

Dingley says the success of similar programs, such as Trading Spaces (on TLC) and Rock the House (on VH1), has helped draw viewers to HGTV’s schedule. ‘It’s cool now to be into design and decorating,’ he says.

Reaching men on the move

Travel, another genre previously perceived as more female-friendly than frat-boy fare, is also gaining acceptance with men. In the U.K., Travel Channel and Sky Travel (both London based) each have audiences that are almost evenly split between male and female viewers. Yet, each takes a different approach to the male demographic.

‘We have a lot of transport-based travel programming,’ says Angela Taylor, the Landmark Communications-owned Travel Channel’s head of programming. ‘All of those come up consistently in our male top 30 programs.’

Considering this, the cable/digi channel is developing programming that exploits the popularity of this sub-genre. ‘Season of Sail’, a block dedicated to sailing and travel on the high seas, launched July 21. Previously, Travel Channel aired one called ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles.’ ‘It’s something both men and women enjoy,’ says Taylor, adding that it tends to skew slightly male.

Taylor, who joined the cablecaster in 1994, says she’s interested in travel programming that approaches men in a fresh way – for example, she’s looking for a good spa series that factors gender into its presentation – but she doubts anything will rate higher with male viewers than transport-based programming. ‘If it was going to change, it would have already done so,’ she contends. Taylor notes that she acquires about 85% of programming, with the remainder produced in-house.

Sky Travel, which just started doing original productions, divides its schedule into ‘zones’: lifestyle, adventure, holiday and hot. ‘Across that spectrum, we appeal to men in very different ways, and to different age segments,’ says Delia Bushell, head of Sky Travel.

Two blocks hold special appeal for men. The ‘Hot Zone’ airs after 10 P.M. and looks at ‘the wilder side of lifestyle.’ Says Bushell, ‘It rates with both, but given that it has a racy bent or sex theme, it skews more male than female.’ The ‘Adventure Zone’ covers travel off the beaten track. Bushell says this also appeals to men: ‘The ‘Adventure Zone’ is about adrenaline rush. There are plenty of women who love that, but it’s mostly male-skewed.’

Bastian Manintveld, CEO of BAMA Media Group in Madrid, agrees. He’s currently in production on Costa del Sol, a travel program that explores why people from all walks of life choose to leave everything behind and move to Spain’s famous coast. The element of risk, he argues, is key to attracting male viewers. ‘This is a program about…chasing your dreams,’ he explains. Costa del Sol is being produced with Stokvis & Niehe Producties in the Netherlands, a subsidiary of Endemol, and is intended for the Dutch market.

Boys will be boys

Deagan says the demand for programs aimed at a more sophisticated man reflects the growing sophistication of the channels. ‘As the market matures and moves away from acquisitions and more into original programming,’ she explains, ‘it’s finding ways to make [traditionally female subjects] fresh and bring in those advertisers.’

Dingley echoes Deagan’s assertion. ‘When we first launched, [HGTV] was primarily a how-to network,’ he says. ‘Over the years, we’ve gone way beyond that. We’re just scratching the surface of what home-related programming is about.’ Exploring the different meanings of home, says Dingley, is HGTV’s next big mission.

Yet, the market will always be hungry for its bread and butter. Says Deagan, ‘[The channels] will never stray too far from fast cars and hammers and nails. Those are the staple and the signature of a lot of channels. But, the demand for finding fresh ways to write about subjects in such a way as to appeal to a male demographic is definitely there.’

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.