Trends: Time to Renovate

My brother-in-law was flicking through tv channels recently, and stopped to pause on tlc. 'I used to watch tlc because it usually had something cool to see,' he said, unsolicited. 'Now, all it ever shows are people fighting over which area rug to put down. I can't remember the last time I learned something from The Learning Channel.'
April 1, 2005

My brother-in-law was flicking through TV channels recently, and stopped to pause on TLC. ‘I used to watch tlc because it usually had something cool to see,’ he said, unsolicited. ‘Now, all it ever shows are people fighting over which area rug to put down. I can’t remember the last time I learned something from The Learning Channel.’

TLC had a rough year in 2004, and Discovery brass are hoping incoming GM David Abraham can turn things around. Abraham wasn’t available for comment, but the channel’s reliance on the home makeover genre is widely blamed for its dramatic drop in viewers. Like my brother-in-law, people abandoned the channel when they stopped understanding the brand.

TLC’s slip has prompted speculation that the home genre as a whole is suffering from overexposure. However, Scripps’ Home & Garden TV execs aren’t worried.

‘I don’t think people are tired of home improvement shows, I think they’re tired of the ways they’re being developed and executed,’ says Michael Dingley, senior VP of programming. Still, while HGTV saw its average primetime household impressions increase 23% in 2003, year-to-year growth was only 11% in 2004.

With 87 million subscribers, Dingley admits HGTV can’t get much more cable penetration in the U.S., so it’s focusing on its demos. In particular, men and younger viewers. To this end, the channel is working hard to become more entertaining. As Mary Ellen Iwata, VP of program development, says, ‘The bar has been raised.’

But, says Dingley,’If you’ve been watching us since day one, you’re not going to click us on in fourth quarter 2005 and say, ‘This isn’t my HGTV.” TLC’s audience can only hope for as much. KB

Strategy for 2005


Launched: November, 1980

Motto: Life Unscripted

Target audience: adults 25 to 54

Who’s tuning in: Fewer people. TLC lost 25% of its adult viewers (18 to 49) in 2004.

Total viewers in 2004: 535,000

Strategy for 2005: Ease up on home makeover shows and take more risks. Discovery Networks U.S. president Billy Campbell has publicly admitted TLC needs to diversify into other areas, such as health, travel, science, legal/justice and – ironically – self-improvement. In a seemingly desperate attempt to revive Trading Spaces, the show will go forward without host Paige Davis.

Launched: December, 1994

Motto: Ideas. Information. Inspiration.

Target audience: adults 25 to 54

Who’s tuning in: Women who know their way around a tool box. Despite efforts to broaden out beyond the how-to enthusiast, hgtv still does best with this core group of viewers.

Average primetime HH impressions in 2004: 742,000

Strategy for 2005: Attract young people and men to the channel by programming shows that appeal to ‘couples on the couch.’ In search of innovative formats, HGTV is commissioning producers new to the home genre. But don’t expect shows that depend on the contrived situations typical of reality programming. Instead, look for more shows like World’s Extreme Homes and My First Place.

John Ford
Joined TLC in 1991 as SVP of programming, and was soon promoted to GM. When he left the channel in 1999, TLC was among the top 10 cable networks and its ratings had increased 800%.
Now: At Nat Geo Channel U.S. since 2002 as EVP of programming. In 2004, NGC’s yearly audience average for adults 25 to 49 rose to 84,000 (from 49,000 in 2003) – an increase of 71%. In 2005, it’s averaging 132,000 – an increase of 57%.
Mary Ellen Iwata

Joined TLC in 1991 as production and development director, and was later VP for development and special projects. She spearheaded the concept behind World Birth Day.

Now: At HGTV as VP of program development since 2003. In 2004, HGTV recorded its best year for primetime, with the average household rating climbing 13% to 0.9.
David Abraham

As GM of Discovery Networks U.K., he almost doubled the net’s audience share and made the U.K. branch of Discovery one of the company’s highest profit generators.

Now: As GM of TLC he has a tough job. Because TLC’s ratings were 30% lower year-to-year in 2004, it was reported that the channel ran make-good spots for some of its advertisers. As well, average viewers for Trading Spaces went from 4 million in 2003 to 1.5 million in 2004.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.