Scripps Networks Interactive has been slow to the digital revolution. In fact, a year and a half ago, when competitors like NBCUniversal and Turner Broadcasting had long since cemented their online strategies and pumped time and money into creating digital content, the network was just getting started.
"It wasn’t that we weren’t doing anything, but we were focused on our owned and operated sites, and never really focused on platforms. And we never thought about creating content every day at that point. We were just not organized or staffed to handle it," said Vikki Neil senior vice president and general manager at Scripps Networks Interactive. "It was almost as if we were taking for granted what we were doing."
But the 139-year-old company and its nine brands, which include HGTV, Food Network and Travel Channel, have been making up for lost time. For example, in the first week of May, the network announced it would produce original shows for Snapchat Discover, partner with Hulu’s Live TV service and acquire website Spoon University. These initiatives come as the company surpasses the growth of its competitors, even those born out of the age of automation.
Since June 2016, Scripps has seen 9.95 billion video views across its brands’ digital, social and mobile platforms, a 485 percent increase from the 1.70 billion video views it saw from the year before. In May alone, the network’s online content topped 1.5 billion video views—more than quadruple what it saw last year in the same month. At the same time, it has amassed more than 550 million monthly digital visitors, more than double the amount from last May, said the network.
Of all the brands, Food Network has been the shining star of this new era of growth, ranking number one in video views over competing food and drink outlets like BuzzFeed’s Tasty, Tastemade and Delish last month, according to Tubular Labs data. Since last April, Travel Channel has also seen its digital video views grow by 38 times, and HGTV saw its video views triple, according to the network.
What has spurred this digital awakening? Neil said that around the end of 2014, Scripps saw the writing on the wall and realized it had to start investing more in digital content. By January, the company had struck a deal with Snapchat to make the Food Network one of its first Snapchat Discover partners. The deal meant Food Network would have a dedicated feed on the Snapchat home page to fill with its own content, a coveted position for any media company. According to a Nielsen-commissioned study, Discover partners saw a 20 percent increase in average monthly reach online in April.
But originally, the network struggled to find an audience on Snapchat. Creating original assets that would just disappear within a few minutes was time-consuming, and a tough sell internally. So, rather than create custom content for the app, Scripps was filling it with repurposed TV clips targeted to a much older audience, and users weren’t biting. Neil began working with Snapchat to produce content that was tailored to the youthful audiences on the platform. This meant injecting headlines with more pithy and exciting language, sharing content that millennials and Gen Zers could relate to and publishing stories daily. "They wanted our content," said Neil, "they just wanted that content with a different headline or tone."
Neil began seeing results, but she knew Scripps wasn’t set up to produce enough consistent content to feed Snapchat, much less the countless other emerging platforms. The Snapchat partnership was about to help reframe Scripps’ entire digital strategy.
"It led me to say I think we need to reframe what we are doing in digital," said Neil. "We knew we would need a dedicated team for Snapchat and really crank out a lot of content—10 or 12 stories a day. That’s a lot. That’s different than preparing a package months in advance for Thanksgiving."
Neil began to poach Scripps executives with the idea of a separate studio focused on digital. Part content distributor, part content creator for advertisers, the editorial operation would be designed with a straightforward mission, said Neil—to separate the company’s digital efforts from its TV brands and become an online leader in the lifestyle space. Neil didn’t have to push the idea for long—by this point, Scripps executives were ready to become immersed in the space, she said. The fact that Scripps could also use the social content for its TV programs and vice versa helped the idea move forward.
"Our TV executives really understand the power of owning and creating our own content," said Neil. "It’s one of the biggest differentiators for us as a company—we own almost our entire TV library, so we wanted to take that same approach to digital as well."
In December 2015, Scripps Lifestyle Studios launched with around 160 members split into food, home and travel teams. Soon, the network’s channels like "DIY Channel" and the "Cooking Channel" began publishing content daily on social media channels, said Neil. "We went from publishing almost nothing," she said, "to publishing about five videos a day for each brand." Since then, the team has grown to around 200. To this day, each team member has their own specific content category they focus on and produce the majority of videos and social content in-house.
With the new division, the network’s social strategy had to adapt to the times. This meant injecting headlines with more pithy and exciting language, sharing content that millennials and Gen Zers could relate to and publishing stories daily. The team also discovered that the type of content and its tone should fluctuate from platform to platform depending on the audience, said Neil. "It’s a pivot to looking at social not as a marketing tool, but as a way to develop relationships with our audiences," she said.
Food Network is a good example. On Snapchat, posts are to the point but still captivating. On Monday, Food Network had a story that read: "Five ways to step up your mac and cheese game," set against a video of liquid cheese being poured over macaroni. Interested users then swipe up to read the full article online.
On Facebook, the strategy is to show one to two minute timelapsed videos that show how to create recipes from peanut butter bars to cotton candy Baked Alaska.
The new division also placed Scripps in a position to do more content marketing and branded integrations for advertisers, offerings that Scripps had not broadcast before, said Neil. "We are in a very unique position from a sales perspective because we do have this historical digital business of what people can expect from us—they can buy audience targeting, display media," she said. "But in addition to that, we can also have content marketing, we can do integrated marketing, we have the ability to create custom content like recipes and bring digital talent to our advertising experiences."