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Will HGTV have to become edgy with Meth-House Makeover to survive in the streaming era?

  • HGTV is a massive cable TV success story, ranking as No. 4 behind cable news networks Fox News, MSNBC and CNN. Yet it is currently trying to navigate two crises: the pandemic and the likely demise of cable TV, where HGTV had been engineered over two decades to be dominant. As The New Yorker's Ian Parker explains, "HGTV is a splendid, crenellated house in a neighborhood built on quicksand and termite tunnels. American cable-TV subscriptions peaked twenty years ago. The broader category of linear pay television—cable and satellite combined—peaked in 2009, when subscriptions were maintained by eighty-eight per cent of American households. Today, that number has fallen below sixty-five per cent, and more than three-quarters of American households have signed up for at least one streaming service." HGTV launched in 1993 with creator Kenneth Lowe envisioning it with "pretty lame" shows. But now that HGTV's future lies in streaming on Discovery+, it needs more programming that stands out. Shows that HGTV has considered include a home renovation show hosted by rapper Lil Jon titled Torn Down for What. HGTV executives have also discussed a Meth-House Makeover show that would either be a series on people who had unwittingly bought a former meth lab, a series about a cleaning company specializing in meth labs or a series about entrepreneurs who look for inexpensive former meth labs to buy and renovate (Meth-House Flippers?). "The executives then discussed a show called Nightmare Neighbors 911, and a concept that they began referring to as The World’s Weirdest Realtors, which could offer opportunities to feature oddballs whose pitches for shows had been rejected by HGTV over the years: a Realtor who specialized in polyamorous families; a circus performer; a Realtor-ventriloquist," says Parker. HGTV has been a successful cable network by essentially being televised wallpaper. But in recent years, HGTV shows have focused on celebrities, from A Very Brady Renovation to Celebrity IOU, both of which are produced by Property Brothers Drew and Jonathan Scott. Parker notes that before Discovery+ had a name, it was known internally as "Project Thunder." Parker adds: "When I spoke to a senior Discovery executive, he proposed that this was the product for which Discovery had bought Scripps. 'We needed more content,' he told me. 'For the past four or five years, we’ve been slowly banking content for this moment.' The new service, he said, would start off with fifty-five thousand hours of programming, compared to only ten thousand hours on Disney+, and it would undercut competitors on price. Even as HGTV had been maneuvering into emotion and drama, and trying to expand the network’s reach, its primary value to its corporate parent lay for the moment in the size of its library, which includes nearly nineteen hundred episodes of House Hunters, in its various formats. According to the executive, the appeal of Discovery+ would be less 'Everyone’s talking about <i>The Queen’s Gambit, and more 'That’s a lot of great sh*t I love.'"

    TOPICS: HGTV, Discovery+