Sept. 18, 2006
By Elizabeth Gray
When the Scripps Network's Home and Garden Television (HGTV) began losing viewers in 2004, Michael Dingley, senior vice president of programming and content strategy, saw it as a chance to give their programming a "B-12 shot" of fun and entertainment.
Speaking to a packed room in Baker Center, Dingley talked about creating lifestyle programming people want to watch. Since he began working at HGTV in 1997, he has supervised nearly 8,000 hours of such programming, learning through experience that viewers have a very broad definition of home.
HGTV was an immediate success after its launch in 1994, but programming focused mainly on suburban homeowners who like do-it-yourself projects. Though many of their programs were how-to, their first extremely successful show was "Designing for the Sexes," which pitted the design tastes of females and males against each other.
After adding several design shows and enjoying several years of booming ratings, the end of 2004 brought bad news: falling ratings, especially among young viewers. Dingley says a lack of new program ideas played a big role in the rating decline.
Evolution, not revolution, Dingley says, was the approach they were taking to the programming. If a channel changes its programming too quickly, it risks losing its core audience of "addicts." However, not evolving quickly enough caused many viewers to lose interest in the many variations of design shows on HGTV.
To recover their lost viewers and gain new ones, HGTV program directors launched an 18-month strategy to revamp the programming and break outside the "four walls" approach to home and garden entertainment.
"We really thought about what home means to everyone, rather than the traditional approach," Dingley said.
HGTV, which receives about 30 to 60 unsolicited show ideas per week, came up with programs such as the recent "Design Star" and "House Hunters," which is their most popular program. As the name implies, "House Hunters" follows would-be homeowners in their search for the perfect house. Dingley also shared a sneak peak of programming for the fall with his audience.
Dingley was one of about 20 Scripps professionals in Athens for the dedication of the newly named Scripps College of Communication. The Scripps Howard Foundation presented the first installment of a 10-year, $15 million gift to the college in a ceremony Tuesday afternoon.
The plan to overhaul the channel was successful: HGTV is now at its highest viewer ratings ever.
"We've evolved, added lots of emotion there, and we're more buzz worthy," said Dingley. "But we're still true to the brand."
Elizabeth Gray is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.