Overseeing 11 Networks, From HGTV to ID, Kathleen Finch Knows What Female Cable Viewers Want

Adweek’s TV Executive of the Year is merging Discovery and Scripps’ talent and audiences

Kathleen Finch is focused on keeping Discovery Inc.’s female viewers from checking out the competition. Annie Tritt
Headshot of Jason Lynch

When it comes to making shows for women in the 25-54 demographic, Kathleen Finch is the queen of cable TV. As chief lifestyle brands officer for Discovery Inc., Finch oversees 11 cable networks—more national channels than any other programming exec—including ID, TLC and HGTV, which last quarter ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, in prime time among that demo. Her portfolio is responsible for 16 percent of all total-day cable TV viewing in women 25-54. “We want to own home, we want to own food, but really, we want to own women,” says Finch, Adweek’s TV Executive of the Year.

After Discovery Communications finalized its purchase of Scripps Networks Interactive in March, Finch, who had headed up all six Scripps networks, was “thrilled” when CEO David Zaslav also put her in charge of Discovery’s “like-minded female networks.” The Discovery-Scripps merger “just made so much sense,” says Finch, who never considered jumping ship when her company was acquired. “It didn’t cross my mind that I wouldn’t be part of the team.”

Since taking on her new role, Finch has been focused on keeping Discovery Inc.’s female viewers from checking out the competition. “I know they will go watch a Lifetime movie, or Hallmark at the holidays or Bravo. I don’t want them to,” she says. “What can I do to make that a less appealing business proposition for them?”

To answer that question, Finch used a tried-and-true strategy from her Scripps days: “Bringing all the creative teams together, shutting the door and saying, ‘OK, forget what your job is, forget what network you work for; let’s think about great ideas. What’s the best way we can bring all these brands and audiences together?’” That led to several early and effective efforts at cross-pollinating talent and shows from the Discovery and Scripps portfolios. In June, a TLC wedding special focused on Drew Scott from HGTV’s Property Brothers franchise, and Food Network’s Guy Fieri dove with sharks for a special that aired during Discovery’s Shark Week. (Finch doesn’t oversee that network, but reasoned that Fieri’s special would bring new viewers to his Food Network series, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.)

Finch is also working on harnessing the viewers at all 11 of her networks and driving them to big premieres and events elsewhere in the company. “How can we take that audience and strategically move them from platform to platform?” says Finch, who discovered in the spring that the Discovery-legacy networks used significantly more promo time than her Scripps networks had. She ended up putting all her group’s promo units together and doled them out to be “more strategic about driving the promo where the CPMs are highest, where we need a bit of ratings turnaround, or where we have a new show about to premiere.” The strategy has already stemmed ratings losses at HGTV, which had slipped after an unprecedented year-over-year growth in 13 of the previous 16 years; last month, the network was up year over year in the demo.

Her biggest chance yet to take an Avengers-style approach to her group is coming up in 2019, thanks to Discovery’s surprise $3.5 million bid in August for the iconic Brady Bunch home in California. “Next year, we’re going to have all the networks lean in, and what can we do to make this the biggest event in HGTV history?” says Finch, who is already assembling ideas for how the entire company can be involved. “That is going to be a watershed moment for HGTV.” It’s a big, pricey swing that likely wouldn’t have been possible at Scripps. Zaslav, however, said yes “within about 30 seconds,” Finch says. “He gets that you’ve got to make noise, you’ve got to be loud.”

Because her networks already have “such a tight brand filter,” Finch isn’t saddled with any rebuilding or rebranding projects. But one big priority in the coming year is helping TLC build on the Sunday night success of its 90 Day Fiancé franchise, which sometimes tops even the broadcast networks in that female demo. “I have the team dissecting what it is about that show that brings women back night after night in droves,” she says. “What is it that we can recreate and put into the other new shows we’re developing?”

Meanwhile, she’s aggressively taking on holiday competitors Hallmark Channel and Lifetime this season, doubling the number of holiday-themed shows at Food Network and airing a week of seasonal House Hunters episodes on HGTV. “You’re going to see a ton of holiday content this year,” Finch says. “We will be doing our darndest to build up that wall around all of the networks that we have, to keep as many women engaged with our holiday content as we can.”

It’s that devotion to her viewers and the strength of her brands, Finch says, that keeps audiences loyal even with increased competition from Netflix and other outlets. “We are the Netflix of cable in a lot of ways,” she says. “People know they’re going to come to us because they feel like a show about a home, or watching a mystery get solved or an emotional story about a family. They know we’re always there for them.”

Check out all of this year’s honorees:

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.
Publish date: October 14, 2018 https://stage.adweek.com/tv-video/overseeing-11-networks-from-hgtv-to-id-kathleen-finch-knows-what-female-cable-viewers-want/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT