What audiences want with Lifestyle Channels’ GM Hannah Barnes

“Lifestyle can still drive a very significant linear audience”

When it comes to subscription TV, ratings indicate most people watch either the Fox Sports group of channels or the Lifestyle group. The former has the edge in winter while Lifestyle’s four channels perform year round with impressive channel shares.

Although the key brand of the portfolio is the flagship Lifestyle channel, general manager of the ratings machine Hannah Barnes admitted to Mediaweek the audience does flip between them regularly.

The ones that can, that is, because Lifestyle (channel 105 on the Foxtel platform) is on the basic package, while the other channels are on a premium tier.

Bake Off is a really good example of driving an audience to Lifestyle FOOD,” Barnes told Mediaweek. “Great British Bake Off, the initial franchise, was launched on Lifestyle, but we then moved it to FOOD and launched the local production there too. The audience followed and watched it on the Entertainment Plus tier.

“Lifestyle can still drive a very significant linear audience as we have seen this year which has been our strongest start to a year in a long time thanks to both Gogglebox Australia and Selling Houses Australia.

“We know that people still want to watch television when they want and how they want. They might watch it during the day on one channel or then later in the day on another. We need to take the content to the audience rather than waiting for them to come and find it.”

While audiences like local productions, there must be a balance between high and low cost content.

“One of the reasons why Foxtel invests in Lifestyle is because our local productions repeat really well. While initially they are a significant investment, they will still pull big audiences for multiple repeats. Grand Designs still can be in the top 10 programs for its repeats, as can Selling Houses Australia.

“Imported acquisitions are obviously less costly, but the good ones cost more. For those we have to be careful about making the right decisions about what to invest in.”

When asked about most popular subject matters, Barnes said they really focus on their audiences. “The majority of audience is women. We are focused on what women want in the lifestyle genre. That can be almost anything and everything. We absolutely don’t focus on a particular audience for particular timeslots. It is more about her mood state, her passion and what she happens to be interested in, whether that might be cooking or interior design.”

As to the continued interest in property and formats like Selling Houses and Grand Designs, Barnes said: “Other countries show that too and we buy quite a few shows from the UK and the US. Australians love their lifestyle, which is everything away from work. Their habitat is therefore something really important to them. We can see that from the loyal and dedicated audience we have on Lifestyle.”

As to overall audience hunger for food TV, from MasterChef Australia to smaller food-oriented travel shows, Barnes said it remains a huge trend. “We have a trend company we work with and there are massive trends within that genre. For me the most surprising trend is perhaps baking. In the most recent season of Bake Off we had a 16-year-old boy Antonio who was up against a 66-year-old woman from the country.

“We have just cast the next season of Bake Off, which launches later in the year, and again we see a similar range of ages. People love food and this a huge trend that is here to stay.”

The trophy cabinet doesn’t grow like it used to now we no longer have ASTRA Awards. Lifestyle’s Andrew Winter was a regular winner as was his show, while Lifestyle itself managed to be named ASTRA Channel of the Year three times in the 11 years the award was given, last winning in 2011.

Barnes on who gets what?

Lifestyle: As our main channel it is very much aspirational and inspirational. It is very much a leanback channel, the channel where we put flagship programs like Grand Designs, Selling Houses Australia.

Lifestyle HOME: Where we put more of our how-to programming. It is a little bit more lean forward.

Lifestyle FOOD: Obviously the bulk of our food content, but we will play food content on the main channel too. Out program Maggie In Japan is our first major food documentary. That will launch on Lifestyle and then also play on Lifestyle FOOD.

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