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Lifestyle focus: going global, looking for local

As U.S. cable nets broaden their horizons with international expansion, and as regional networks look to stave off the competition, lifestyle programming is getting hotter globally. Realscreen looks at what makes lifestyle content work in various global markets. (Pictured: Cupcake Wars)
April 30, 2014

As U.S. cable nets broaden their horizons with international expansion, and as regional networks look to stave off the competition, lifestyle programming is getting hotter globally. Realscreen looks at what makes lifestyle content work in various global markets.

EUROPE

Scripps Networks Interactive produces 2,000 hours of lifestyle content across food, home and travel. In 2010, when the company began expanding internationally with Fine Living, Food Network and Travel Channel, a key concern was whether its U.S. franchises would translate abroad.

Four years later, series such as the Guy Fieri-hosted Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives; House Hunters ¬†International and Million Dollar Rooms form the backbone of its global outposts’ primetime schedules, complemented by local content or local versions of its formats. However, where those programs are scheduled and on what channels are decisions made by local managing directors.

“I’m a big believer in the programmer’s gut or intuition. In each of our markets, programming decisions are made locally by people who are of that culture,” says Jim Samples, president of Scripps Networks International.

But intuition is not everything. As the company moves into a new market, it does focus group testing and formal research into local interests. Ahead of Fine Living’s launch in Italy this spring, Scripps looked at whether Italians, who are renowned for their culinary traditions, would enjoy watching a show such as Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

The answer was yes, but not for the same reasons as Americans. “It was reaffirming that they liked those shows,” adds Samples. “Not necessarily because they like that food or want to make it, but because they find it entertaining.”

Since talent is a key factor in a show’s international appeal, Passion Distribution, which sells several Scripps titles, relies on characters emerging from the U.S. market. A personality’s charisma is hard to replicate, but Passion director of sales Emma Simpkins says hosts who appeal to multiple demographics and are not too polarizing work best.

“We rely on how a [talent] performed in the States, the ratings and any book publishing deals that they’ve done,” she explains. “We would make sure we’re telling that story as we’re pitching the program internationally to put it in that context: This is the beginning of someone new and exciting who is really worth investing in.”

In developed television markets, lifestyle has shifted away from instructional series toward talent-led, entertainment-based shows. However, in global markets, ‘how-to’ series, such as Barefoot Contessa starring Ina Garten (which Scripps will air on Fine Living in Italy), can still rate well in primetime.

Munia Kanna-Konsek, head of sales for Beyond International, points towards property series as faring well internationally, with an onus on renewability and adaptability.

“Both Love It Or List It and Income Property are two of our biggies in this genre and both with multiple series produced,” she says, adding that key elements for their success include “two hosts who can play off each other, or a single host who can engage in good banter with the people actually doing the hard work.

“Ultimately it is the entertainment factor and the surprise or ‘reveal’ element that everyone is waiting for,” she adds.

Discovery Networks International, which operates female-skewing cable nets TLC, Discovery Home & Health and Real Time (Italy), is seeing global traction with extreme medical or health programs such as Body Bizarre and My Naked Secret, as well as docuseries based on a subculture, such as Breaking Amish.

The DNI production and development team commissions for Western Europe, the Nordics, Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America in partnership with regional programming teams who give input specific to what does and doesn’t work in a given territory.

“It’s difficult to make a blanket statement of what doesn’t work. Right now food and travel is a priority for [Asia Pacific], but not our other regions,” says Jon Sechrist, DNI’s vice president of production and development. “This isn’t to say food and travel don’t work everywhere, but rather that there isn’t a need for the DNI team to spend time and resources developing it.

“If a genre isn’t in demand amongst the majority of regions, DNI will leave the development and production at the local level or the regional programming teams can build out their schedules and fill any voids with acquisitions,” he adds.

Jon Rutherford, VP of international sales at Toronto-based distributor Tricon Films & Television, says there still needs to be a more traditional element in food programming in order for a show to sell well, particularly in Eastern Europe and Asia.

He notes that “very solid, well-produced lifestyle that doesn’t tend to skew more towards reality” will sell but that “the entertainment value has to be there and increase year by year.”

In Central and Eastern Europe, Canal+ and DNI’s TLC channels are a big focus for London-based distributor DRG, in addition to smaller niche cooking channels and BBC Lifestyle in Poland.

The international roll-out of TLC, which began in 2010 with a launch in Norway, has seen the network move into 329 million households in 167 markets, with a free-to-air launch for Germany next on the schedule for April.

Both larger and smaller networks are looking to block off a large part of their schedules with returning series, such as Don’t Tell the Bride, which airs in numerous international markets via TLC, and Steven & Chris. “Volume becomes very key to these markets,” says Patrick Roberts, SVP of international sales for DRG.

However, Mark Dee-Shapland, a sales manager for Off The Fence who works in the Eastern European  market, cautions that lifestyle channels are turning more local as the TV markets develop and interest in foreign content wanes.

“A lot of the channels are looking for localized lifestyle shows more than ever,” he says, naming TVN in Poland and Polsat as two networks in particular that are looking more locally as of late. “It is easier for people to relate to, particularly given their political history. The glossiness of the consumerist and the blingy type of lifestyle doesn’t really resonate. They want to see local ideals put on to the channel.

“Euro feeds will start breaking down because they’re not catering properly to local channels,” he adds. “You’ll see more micro broadcasters popping up in the Balkans, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic that will cater to two or three countries but can tailor their programming more.”

As for genres, he is seeing interest in family shows, wedding shows about expensive dream weddings, adventure travel and cooking programs about healthy eating, selling well in Eastern Europe.

ASIA

Last April, Scripps acquired the Singapore-based pay-TV channel Asian Food Network (AFN), which reaches eight million subscribers in 11 markets. Food Network and Travel Channel were operating in Malaysia, Singapore, Mongolia, The Philippines and Taiwan, but AFN had a more established presence in the region, so the acquisition enabled Scripps to consolidate operations in Singapore.

The company did research to determine whether the market could support two food-focused nets. AFN drew local production from around the region, while Food Network Asia tended to focus on programs originating overseas. Ultimately, Scripps saw the acquisition as a way to reinvest and improve the quality of local production while focusing Food Network Asia on international fare.

“We had to make the decision whether we would retain both networks,” says Samples. “We’ve gone from having literally no one in market there to having a full contingent in our Singapore office.”

While character-led programs can help a network punch through in a crowded market for cable and digital platforms, there are so many networks that commissioners need long-running lifestyle series to fill up schedules, which tend to be of the how-to variety.

“A lot of lifestyle content is moving a bit more into primetime, so they can be more picky but they also need faces they can own and use for promotion,” says Passion’s Simpkins, adding that series several seasons deep such as Cupcake Wars (pictured) and Ace of Cakes sell well in Asia. Harder markets to crack are Japan and, to a lesser extent, South Korea, where local lifestyle programming rates well. However, South Korea is a growing market for formats, such as MasterChef.

An international format can lead a distributor’s way into a market already crowded with local lifestyle programming.

“Once you get really strong brands like that in the market it encourages more competition,” says Patrick Roberts of DRG. “It’s the general love of food and culture that is driving that particular trend in South Korea.”

Shows about dating and bridal also do well but it’s a genre that can tend to brush up against cultural differences. GRB Entertainment’s Pregnant and Dating, which is about mature women who opt not to marry the father of their children, sells well globally.

“It was really interesting how a lot of women’s channels came on board, but channels that are more family-oriented didn’t like the topic as much,” says Mike Lolato, GRB’s SVP of international distribution, adding that the series sold well in the UK and Scandinavia but has not had much traction in Asia or Eastern Europe.

“I can’t put a stamp on the moral compass, but I think in some Asian countries that are more conservative, not being married is looked down upon,” he continues.

LATIN AMERICA

Latin America will be a large focus for Scripps Networks International in the year ahead. A few years ago, the company began restricting programming sales in the region with the intent of launching its networks there later in 2014.

“In Latin America our plan is to do a ground-up launch this year,” says Samples, adding he expects the company will adopt a similar strategy as it has in Asia, with big franchises anchoring primetime and local production in a supporting role.

Most distributors interviewed agree that tastes in Latin America run similar to those in North America when it comes to lifestyle. However, there are some differences when it comes to property. Home reno programs are popular but shows that are too North American-centric can fall flat. Tricon represents the Architect Films-produced series Decked Out, Deck Wars and Disaster Decks.

“In Latin America and some parts of Europe it’s not as common to have a backyard and a big, grand wooden deck,” says Rutherford. “So it does depend, but in most cases, the general themes still apply: real estate does well, as do the subgenres.”

In these markets, aspirational property shows work well. UK-based distributor Hat Trick International has found success with George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, about people who transform boats, caravans, bathrooms and even treehouses into ambitious design schemes.

“They’re not run-of-the-mill designs and improvement schemes so they are not run-of-the-mill people that are doing them,” says Sarah Tong, Hat Trick’s director of sales. “It’s inspirational because it’s not about really expensive, ridiculous things. They are achievable.”

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.

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