Why TLC Viewers Stay Loyal
TLC had a great year. According to president and general manager Nancy Daniels, the network finished 2017 as the fastest-growing network with women in the 25-54 age group demographic. Known for its reality TV and lifestyle programming, TLC shows encourage loyalty and leave viewers eager to keep watching year after year, even amid a competitive TV marketplace and a vast menu of options. We talked with Daniels earlier this month at the TV Critics Association Winter Tour to find out what it is about the TLC brand that makes viewers stick around for the long haul.
How does TLC stand out in reality TV programming?
Our shows have a lot of heart. We tell stories about everyday people in extraordinary circumstances often, and there's a real connection with our viewers. Over the past year I've been talking about this a little differently, and when I think about why, and when I think about our content and what is connecting with people, I think it has something to do with being in a world where there's a lot of negative stuff going on a lot of the time. It's hard to escape from. When you come to a network like TLC, you see families that get along with each other, or people that are triumphing over adversity--it gives you a certain faith in community and in humanity. That's something that is working really well for us.
We have shows with families that you have grown up with, like Little People Big World, The Little Couple. Some of these are families we've been following for a long time. Even Kate Plus 8, and we've introduced our audience to some new families like Outdaughtered. We've found that people really connect with families. I'm proud of our team, our development, and our strategy, and at the same time I think there's a bit of kismet involved, and how viewers connect with us.
Why is it important to share and tell these stories that are not often told in the reality TV world?
I'll start by talking in terms of Little People Big World. It's been on for over 10 years. I feel very embedded with that family. They opened up their life and world to America. And maybe people were curious about little people. You didn't see them a lot. They’re not necessarily people you can interact with everyday. This show changed the way people see little people. Everybody fell in love with that family as a family, and almost secondarily as little people.
Then there's My 600-lb Life. For years there have been makeover stories and weight-loss stories. My 600-lb Life really took that to an extreme. These people, if they didn't make a change in their life, they were going to die. They were at a decision point, and they were deciding that they wanted to change. Every episode is about transformation, about choosing the right path--as hard as it can be--and about triumph over adversity. To me, that is a very TLC story as well.
How are viewers interacting with your content?
So the strongest thing we have is our brand, and TLC means something. Our team's mantra is, 'How are we keeping TLC strong and relevant across all platforms.' The TLC team is very strategic and conscious of that as we move forward. We have a super strong linear brand and it's definitely the cornerstone of who we are. But we have our digital and social channels too. On social we converse with our audience, it's a chance to understand who they are, and to talk with them about what's important to them. Then we have TLC Go, where you can go and see all of our shows whenever, however you want. Our goal is to create content and speak to our viewers, and then they can access us whatever is the best way for them.
Can you briefly walk us through how you go about selecting a show or figuring out if it works for the channel?
First and foremost we ask, ‘Does this make sense for us as a brand, and does it work as a linear show?’ But always involved in that greenlight discussion is figuring out if there is more depth and breadth there that we aren't thinking of. Is there a digital series component to this or a short-form approach we should be doing at the same time? Are there different ways we could be talking to our audience that feels like more of a holistic approach? Our audience isn't seeing [a show] as different things. They are seeing [the show] as one thing. So if we are hitting [the audience] from all sides, whether it’s a short-form on mobile they can watch for 10 minutes on a train, or a long-form they come across when scouring the DVR, then we’ve done the right thing.
Where do you see the future of TLC going?
This goes back to the question, ‘How are we keeping TLC strong and relevant across all platforms?’ [TLC] has to be first and foremost strong as a cable brand, and it is, but it has to mean something and it has to touch our viewers everywhere they might be interacting with us. That's going to be our success.
We had a really good year [in 2017]. To me, [the future] is going to be about keeping the momentum going. That is my number one goal, to use this moment when we're having record ratings and our audience is seeing that we get them. It's our job to keep that going, to keep answering their needs and figuring out what they want.