The launch plan was turned inside out, which, as it turned out, was meant to be.
Former HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines made their long-awaited return to cable TV this month with the rebrand of Discovery’s DIY channel under the banner of the Gaines’ Magnolia home and lifestyle brand. A linear cable channel launch is a rare occurrence these days, but Chip and Jo, as the couple are known to their 20 million-plus social followers, have sway with the upscale demographics that still shell out for big pay TV bundles.
But the pandemonium of the pandemic disrupted the best-laid plans. The decision to switch up the timing of the launches came down to simple math, according to Magnolia Networks president Allison Page, an HGTV and Food Network alum. Magnolia didn’t have enough fresh episodes in the can to fuel a 24/7 linear lifestyle channel. Contrary to popular wisdom, old-fashioned cablers have even more voracious demand for content than streamers, as Page explains on the latest episode of Variety‘s weekly podcast “Strictly Business.” HGTV and Food Network order 40-plus episodes of top series at a time to create a wallpaper effect on the linear schedule.
“In streaming, you click through and find the show you want to watch,” Page says. “Day one on linear, you can’t stack a bunch of programs together that are all premieres. What we realized in the spring of 2020 when COVID hit, was that we actually had enough for day one, and we had enough for maybe day five, but we didn’t have enough for probably day 15. You do the math.”
Discovery initiated a long courtship of the pair, who rose to fame nearly a decade ago on HGTV’s home renovation juggernaut “Fixer Upper.” The Gaines had surprised the industry in 2017 when they decided to hit the pause button on their TV work.
Joanna Gaines is frank about what tipped the scales for Discovery to craft a broad television partnership with the parents of five who run a new-economy home design, restaurant, magazine and e-commerce empire from their base in Waco, Texas. It started with Discovery CEO David Zaslav making a trek to the Lone Star State.
“Discovery was the only option where we didn’t have to actually sign on the dotted line to have a show, or two, which was really telling,” Joanna says. “David had listened to us enough to know that going in, maybe it’s not being on television that’s the answer for us. The fact is that the contract had zero demands for us to do any show, or anything. He trusted us and where we would go with it.”
Discovery planned to raise the curtain on the linear Magnolia rebrand in October 2020. That was to be followed by the addition of a Magnolia label on the now year-old Discovery Plus streaming platform.
The Magnolia imprint bowed on Discovery Plus last July with a limited slate, including the Gaines’ return in a new iteration, “Fixer Upper: Welcome Home.” But the TV homecoming didn’t feel complete for the couple until the switch flipped on the Magnolia linear rebrand at 9 p.m. ET on Jan. 5.
“We love to be where the people are,” Joanna says. “We think a lot of our viewers are still there. We also just believe in the power of getting around the television as a family and watching the same show together. It’s weird to think of it as nostalgic, but being around the television set feels like back to the basics all over again.”
“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.
(Pictured: Chip Gaines, Joanna Gaines, Allison Page and David Zaslav)