Derek Chang also discusses new distribution models in foreign markets, the role of local programming and China.
Scripps Networks Interactive in April elevated Derek Chang to the new role of head of international lifestyle channels after serving as managing director, Asia-Pacific.
He continues to report to Jim Samples, president, international, and continues to directly manage the Asia-Pacific operations after relocating to London this summer in addition to building the strategy for expanding the lifestyle channels around the world, including Latin America and Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Chang previously served as executive vp of content strategy and development at DirecTV, where he was responsible for all content acquisition, original productions and programming operations. Before that, he held senior executive roles at the likes of Charter Communications and The Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network.
Chang spoke to THR about Scripps’ approach to making its lifestyle channels, including HGTV, Food Network and Travel Channel, even bigger players in international markets, why the company’s U.S. content travels well, how important local programming is in foreign markets and how Scripps is using innovative distribution models abroad.
When you left DirecTV more than three years ago, you took over Scripps’ business in Asia. What were some of the main things you did there to boost the company’s presence in the region?
We bought a regional channel called the Asian Food Channel and really used that as a foundation for our business in Asia. We have grown our footprint for the Asian Food Channel, for Food Network and Travel Channel. And we tried to create this cohesive business unit out of Singapore, the same thing we have done in the U.S. where we have our portfolio of lifestyle channels covering home, food and travel.
The other thing we did in December 2014 was launch HGTV in Singapore and then across Southeast Asia. That was our first launch of HGTV outside of North America. We have since launched in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Maldives, Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand and most recently with BeIn in the Middle East and North Africa. We are set to launch HGTV in Poland in early 2017.
Is there more international upside for HGTV?
I think you are going to see us drive HGTV globally and continue the overall expansion of our global lifestyle networks.
Which channel is your most widely distributed one outside the U.S.?
Travel Channel is our most widely distributed brand, followed closely by Food Network. Gaining distribution of HGTV, our third global flagship, continues to be a key priority for us in the new year. We also distribute Fine Living across Europe, Middle East and Africa and Asian Food Channel across the Asia-Pacific region.
When you launch a channel in a market, does that typically create demand for your other channel brands?
Absolutely. The pitch we make to traditional pay TV platforms is we cover the entire lifestyle portfolio.
Talk a little bit about the content strategy on your international lifestyle channels and how well your U.S. content travels?
The basis of all our networks is our content from the U.S. We create 2,500 hours of new content a year.
It does play well with different audiences, and I think that really comes down to the stories that are told, the emotions that are evoked and all that. People have this question sometimes: “Is HGTV going to do well in Asia or whatever market?” The perception is everyone in Asia lives in a small home and the shows are about big American homes. But when you watch our channels, they are not about the house itself, but the stories and attachment and all that sort of stuff. Those things are parallels wherever you are in the world. For most people, their home is the biggest investment they have.
If you talk to any of the platforms in Asia where we have launched HGTV and our partners who kind of took a chance with us, they are feeling it has paid off for them, because of what it has done with respect to their viewers and audiences.
How do you brig together your core Americana and local tastes?
The heart of it is we produce great content. That’s a huge advantage. As you think about how you make that work locally, if you look at our workforce in Singapore or London or Latin America, it’s not like we have shipped a bunch of Americans there. I went to Asia and built a local team with expertise throughout the region. The same goes for London where we have expertise across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. And in Miami and Sao Paolo, we have expertise for Latin America. That’s how you can bridge a lot of that. You got people who understand the local sensitivities.
The other thing we do is get our senior leadership out to the regions, so they can understand things better and see the challenges and opportunities. Our leadership embraces this. It’s a little bit of a longer flight, because from Knoxville you always have to fly to Atlanta or New York or Chicago or L.A. to get out of the country, but they find it worthwhile.
And you got to treat international markets a little bit differently. You can’t go with a one-size-fits-all approach. We customize the look and feel for each individual market. You got to version is. The basic core of what we do and the programs we create in the U.S. do resonate outside the U.S., but market by market you need to customize a little bit, meaning creating some local content to complement what we have and creating promos and interstitials to customize the look and feel to local markets.
Any markets where local original fare is more important for Scripps?
Creating local original content is a priority for us as we look to localize our channel offerings. We have quite a few successful original productions, including Siba’s Table, Paul Hollywood City Bakes for the U.K. and Europe, Middle East and Africa, Cooking for Love and House Hunters Asia for the Asia region, and Bizu and Cozinha na Laje for Brazil.
We are in the process of filming some of our first local originals for pan-regional Latin America. Part of it is to see what works when you start to localize, whether it’s some of the tried-and-true franchises or new concepts or new talent. There is some flow of international talent and content that is starting to show up in the U.S.
Are network brands or specific shows and stars more important audience drivers for Scripps?
In the U.S., we really place huge value on the brands themselves. And I think our viewers place huge value on that. They come to our channels for the brands, not necessarily for each individual show. They know what they are going to get. We deliver consistency of ratings. It’s pretty phenomenal. We also have our stars and personalities, not like George Clooney or anything like that, and viewers like them. But people come to us for our brands, they are not coming for the hit show that happens to be on that season. That’s the sort of experience we are trying to replicate internationally. In some places they consider some of our programming to be the default programming. It’s comfortable to watch, I know it and I enjoy it.
Our programming in the U.S. is watched live over 90 percent of the time still. That’s almost counterintuitive, because most people would think that’s programming that you would record. What we try to replicate internationally is the power of those brands. The difference that you will see internationally is that whereas in the U.S. we are strictly a pay television business, when you go around the world pay TV sits at varying stages. And there are some markets where pay TV may never really fully get off the ground, because you got emerging technologies and distribution models. We aren’t as entrenched in certain markets, so we have the ability to go at it in a different way if a traditional pay TV model isn’t available to us.