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Viewpoint: A healthy take on lifestyle TV

Raymond-Donahue_Veria-LivingA few recent industry news headlines:

• Discovery Networks purchases Takhayal Entertainment including its flagship food network Fatafeat.

• Foxtel acquires nearly 300 hours of lifestyle programming from Endemol.

• BBC Worldwide is producing two new cooking shows that will air in several territories on BBC Lifestyle in 2014.

Today’s global marketplace is far different than the one I first encountered with New World Entertainment back in the mid-1980s. That television universe was almost entirely driven by larger than life scripted hits. I’d say I sold series like Crime Stories, Wonder Years and Tour of Duty but those mega-hits pretty much sold themselves – I’d make sure the checks were made out in the correct amounts.

When I first started selling Veria Living programming some three years ago the health and wellness category was seen mainly as filler programming for the morning, daytime and early fringe timeslots. But then lifestyle channels and programming began to grow in popularity.

Social and economic factors have spurred people around the world to focus on better ways to take care of themselves to deal with these tougher times. They’re more and more looking for alternatives to unhealthy fast foods or fatty foods. They want to avoid being in poor shape and they prioritize having themselves and their families lead healthier lifestyles.

Baby Boomers may still smoke and drink as if they’re preparing to join the cast of Mad Men. However, Generations X and Y, unlike their elders and previous generations, are more attuned to health and wellness. They’re more health conscience and focus on taking better care of themselves as well as their families. They’re also more interested in learning about proactive wellness-focused practices that can improve the quality of their lives versus traditional reactive medical problem-solving.

This growing interest in the health and wellness space has led to the launch of more lifestyle-oriented channels and programming. No longer are these shows limited to mornings and afternoons – you’ll find them doing just fine in primetime.

Overall, there has been a noticeable surge in the demand for health and wellness programming, and the two most popular categories tend to be fitness and healthy cooking. This is one of the reasons our Veria Living Studios has already produced hundreds of hours of original programming almost exclusively in those realms. Let’s be honest, the sad truth is that obesity is now rampant around the world. Which is another reason we and other broadcasters have placed a significant emphasis on producing and airing fitness and healthy cooking content.

Shows in the latter category, such as Nirmala’s Spice World and Peggy K’s Kitchen Cures, are a far different breed than viewers were accustomed to watching only a few years ago; we produce these cooking shows with the objective of actually help people live healthier lives.

As well, Fitness shows, at least well-produced fitness programming, has proven to be incredibly engaging and it builds a loyal fan base that tunes in day-after-day.

Channels devoted to health and wellness are now sprouting up in Southeast Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe where the category quickly catching fire. This is especially true in both Hungary and Romania. In fact we’ve sold more than 300 hours of programming – ranging from the series Yogi Cameron: A Model Guru, to Good Food America and The Incurables – that airs on Digi Film’s RCS and RDS channels serving viewers in Romania and Hungary.

What we’ve also experienced is that the key for a successful 24/7 linear channel in retaining and growing audience share is to creatively mix entertaining programming with key elements and messaging about health and wellness. Take Trimming Down the House (our version of The Biggest Loser) for example. Essentially, it is a reality show where you get to know the members of a family – the entertainment portion – with an informational dose that helps change the family’s poor eating habits. Our experts evaluate their lives and show them how to live healthier by making better food choices and engaging in exercise.

Viewers are entertained by this type of programming. As well, by implementing even one health or wellness element – that they learned from watching the show – into their daily routines, they can improve their lives.

Health and wellness programming is on definitely on the upswing. With an increasing number of people and families globally either looking to incorporate yoga into their lives or begin cooking and eating natural products – this is a sustainable trend for the foreseeable future. So what’s the capital gain? Consider the LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) estimates the category globally at a mere $1 Trillion.

Raymond Donahue is chief revenue officer for Veria Living (www.veria.com)