Kathleen Finch is a big believer in staying in your lane.
Discovery’s chief lifestyle brands officer juggles a portfolio of 11 linear cable channels and their digital offshoots, from Food Network and HGTV to TLC and crime-centric Investigation Discovery. Many of Finch’s channels are defying the gravity of the moment in generating extremely high levels of live viewing and length-of-tune stats with hardcore fans that are the envy of the industry.
In the latest episode of Variety podcast Strictly Business, Finch explains the importance of consistency and familiarity on her networks. Each channel stakes out a programming niche and then labors to find out what makes its ardent fans tick. For many regular viewers, watching HGTV or ID isn’t a matter of coming in for a specific program. It’s more like a slice of comfort food.
Listen to this week’s episode of Strictly Business:
“The engagement we have with our fans is so different than a typical television-watching experience,” Finch says. Viewers see shows on Discovery channels as “my friend. I’m hanging out with (Food Network’s) Ina Garten for the afternoon,” she says. Programmers at Discovery channels are always looking for new iterations of successful concepts and themes.
“The teams really focus almost with blinders on,” she says. “It gives them a path to follow. It’s not as if everybody’s scattershot trying thousands of different ideas. We’re very much in the mindset of (knowing) what the viewer wants and iterating on it in ways that keep it fresh.”
Finch also discusses the recent reports of tension in the unscripted community between independent producers and the big cable groups that commission hundreds of hours of programming every year.
“The reality is the business is changing,” Finch says. “We are still the most in demand content commissioner that anybody wants to work with. We can take an idea and if it works, in success, we’re making hundreds of episodes.”
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.