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It’s mid-October and Halloween real estate at big box stores is already constricting, aisles girding for an onslaught of red and green. The holiday season is imminent. And, while it means much more to retail’s bottom line, cable TV may come in a close second.
That stretch between Nov. 1 and year’s end is vital for much of linear TV but can be an exceptional boon for Discovery’s suite of lifestyles networks — and one of its biggest rivals that time of year, owned by a certain card company. Led by HGTV and Food Network, Discovery’s lifestyles group goes all-in on holiday programming. This year, on Food alone, there’ll be 98 hours of new originals in addition to a formidable, largely evergreen library of holiday fare. But the biggest swing is happening elsewhere. Candy Coated Christmas, Food Network’s feature foray, is airing on streaming sibling Discovery+.
“I think it makes sense,” says Kathleen Finch, Discovery, Inc. chief lifestyle brands officer, acknowledging that an unscripted outfit moving into scripted in 2021 isn’t exactly conventional. “We have the biggest female audience in all of cable. Across our nets, 30 percent of the available women watching cable at night are watching one of our lifestyle networks. We have those women. We can see where they go when they’re not watching us, and we know they love holiday movies.”
Holiday movies, of course, have been paydirt for rival Hallmark Channel. Its “Countdown to Christmas” annually sports 40-plus new titles that can steamroll primetime cable competition during the month. So it’s easy to see why Food is attempting to move beyond its reimagined Christmas cookies, cake bake-offs and gingerbread showdowns. Execs have been considering a scripted foray for some time. But cable, particularly in these cord-cutting days, is in no place to confuse its audience — which is why the Nov. 19 launch will be getting plugged across the portfolio but airing elsewhere.
Since January, streamer Discovery+ has been a sprawling second-run hub for its many networks but also originals. There’s an entire slate of ancillary series around TLC hit 90 Day Fiancé, spinoffs of HGTV flagship Home Town and even a cannabis-themed iteration of Food competition Chopped.
“A lot of what’s been working really, really well on Discovery+ is new iterations of talent and formats that people already love on linear,” says Finch. “We’re giving those super fans more of what they love.”
Candy Coated Christmas intends to do just that. Outside of the project’s culinary title and themes, it features Food talent Ree Drummond. The star of The Pioneer Woman, who’s got 3.8 million Instagram followers and an audience loyal enough to validate her booming retail efforts, is making her acting debut in a supporting role as a candy shop owner. Drummond, who moonlights as host of annual Food competition Christmas Cookie Challenge, is even documenting her acting foray in a behind-the-scenes special lunching two weeks before the movie and discussing recipes that she lent to the production. (“If I get to be in just one movie in my life,” Drummond said in a statement, “I want it to be a Christmas movie.”)
“She’s tweeting to all of her fans and talking about it in her magazine, she’s going to rally her fans around the movie,” says Finch.” “It’s just a really interesting experiment and a great way to see if we can scratch that itch for our female viewers.”
In success, one could easily argue that food-centric holiday movie could become a tradition for Food. And, if it pulls anywhere near the audience of one of a Hallmark movie, it very well may — but Finch doesn’t seem convinced that any amount of success would inspire a linear jump: “Would we put Candy Coated Christmas on Food Network? Probably not. That’s why it’s great to have another platform to program.”
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