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HGTV growing past 30-million sub mark

Home & Garden Television expects to top the 30-million subscriber mark next month, paving the way for the E.W. Scripps Co.’s cabler to turn a profit next year.

Launched in December 1994, the fast growth of HGTV has company managers developing ideas for spinoff channels and other new cable webs.

“There will be other cable networks,” Susan Packard, chief operating officer of HGTV, told Daily Variety on Monday. “Our mandate is to grow. As a single, independent cable network provider, there are disadvantages we face that can be remedied by having additional networks.”

Outside of a small investment in a regional sports network, HGTV is Scripps’ sole investment in the programming side of the cable and satellite TV biz. Scripps, the parent company of Scripps Howard Broadcasting, sold its cable systems to Comcast Corp. last year.

HGTV, which had about 20 million subscribers at the end of last year, will be introduced on a slew of new cable systems next month, including Cox Cable in San Diego. Like other new cablers fighting for carriage in a tight distribution market, HGTV has agreed to pay $2 to $4 per subscriber to cable operators who add the channel to their systems this year.

Now that the network is poised to pass its break-even mark with 30 million subs, HGTV has tabled its “cash incentive” program and won’t be shelling out for future carriage agreements with operators.

The estimated $20 million to $40 million outlay needed to get HGTV to its break-even point will be made back through higher advertising rates and eventually, through license fees from operators, Packard said.

Cash payments aside, the real key to HGTV’s rapid growth, in Packard’s view, is its distinctive programming, centering on home improvement, gardening, crafts and other domestic arts.

“There’s nothing else like us on the dial,” Packard said. “Most new cable networks are renditions of movie channels or other services already on the air. We’re very unique and that has been a big plus with cable operators.”

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