Scripps Networks Interactive’s Kathleen Finch

Kathleen Finch, the chief programming, content and brand officer at Scripps Networks Interactive, shares with TV Real some of the current programming strategies guiding the networks within the bouquet.

Finch works across all six of the company’s U.S. channels. This includes the flagship Food Network, as well as HGTV and Travel Channel.

TV REAL: What’s guiding the overall programming strategy at present?
FINCH: We distribute six networks in the United States. While all of them are uniquely different, the point of view is very similar. Our goal is to inspire people. We entertain them, enlighten them and teach them things, and we do that by finding hosts who are not typical TV talents. We find people who are experts in the worlds of food, home and travel, and then we work to make them good television talent. We end up with people like Chip and Joanna Gaines on HGTV’s Fixer Upper ***Image***who can’t walk down the street anymore without getting recognized because they’re such big stars.

TV REAL: What’s driving the approach for Food Network currently? 
FINCH: One of the things that we are very excited about is that we are finding real people in real food businesses and then creating doc-style programming around them. We found a cute young couple that owns a restaurant in Savannah. We found a fabulous family that owns a bakery in Atlanta. We found another fun family that owns a bakery in Las Vegas. We’re finding these real foodie people in their real foodie worlds and work with them in their natural environments and let them tell their stories. There’s a great pay-off at the end, whether it’s an opening night at a restaurant or a big catered event or a giant wedding cake, and along the way, you get to learn about their lives.

TV REAL: How has Travel Channel’s programming expanded in scope?
FINCH: For Travel Channel, and really for all of our networks, it comes down to the hosts. If we were to do a straight travelogue, I’m not sure as many people would watch it. People do like to go to our website for information about planning their trips, including what to see and eat. That sort of information works really well on our digital sites. When it comes to our linear channel, we want our hosts to be docents to take us someplace cool, where you can have an experience you might not have been able to have otherwise. We consider both our linear and digital programming as informative information packaged in an entertaining way.

For instance, Booze Traveler with Jack Maxwell. He’s a great talent, a great host. The show is all about the drinking cultures around the world and how various alcohol is made, how certain signature cocktails came to be or famous bars and watering holes. It centers on alcohol, culture and Jack’s fun experiences around the world. You sit on his shoulders and go along. It’s entertaining and informative, and he’s very charming and compelling.

So much of what is working on Travel Channel is around these amazing hosts who you want to hang out with. Expedition Unknown isa great show that follows Joshua Gates on his adventures to investigate iconic mysteries across the globe. It’s the legend of King Arthur, the legend of Robin Hood—a fun story that you know something about in the back of your mind but that he really dissects to have you better understand it in an exciting way. It’s fun! You learn a ton but don’t necessarily feel like you’re being schooled. Instead, you’re just following this cool, fun guy who introduces you to other interesting people and unravels a mystery along the way.

TV REAL: Do you look for potential in U.S. shows to localize them as formats for other markets? 
FINCH: That’s what’s so exciting about having our international business grow so quickly. We’ve had a couple of shows travel from the U.S. that were internally generated ideas. We have a show called House Hunters on HGTV—it’s a hugely popular show. We’ve now formatted that show, and we’ve taken it to our partners in Singapore who have created a local version called House Hunters Asia. We have another show that we created in the U.S. called Kitchen Crashers, where we surprise people in a home-improvement store and we go home with them to give them a surprise kitchen makeover. They go into the store to buy a new doorknob, they come out with a whole crew that then over the weekend guts and replaces their kitchen. We introduced that show to Poland, where TVN created a local version of the format called Polowanie na kuchnię and it is now hugely popular. We love when we can create ideas internally and then bring them to our international partners and create new versions of ideas that worked so well in the U.S.

TV REAL: Is there a particular channel that you’re paying a bit more special attention to?
FINCH: Travel Channel is a fully distributed channel. It is also where we see the biggest opportunity to grow audience. We’ve seen some great traction. Our ratings are up now for a few quarters in a row; ten months in a row we’ve beaten year-over-year. It’s due to people like Jack Maxwell and Andrew Zimmern, whose shows perform very well on the network. Travel Channel is a key priority for us and is where we are putting a lot of our energies these days.