Cottager Tony Armstrong faced a plumbing dilemma one day a few years ago. The foot valve in his water pump wasn’t working. He came up with two solutions.
“It was late October and the water (Lake Simcoe) was very cold and I wanted to fix the damn thing as soon as possible," Tony Armstrong said. “Why not a television show that showed people how to fix their foot-valves?”
Armstrong is a producer and director withCottage Life Television, providing programs that cater to the needs of cottagers.
Cottage Life Television was launched in 1992, at a time when there were no channels broadcasting do-it-yourself programming. But Armstrong said he knew there was a market for it.
“We knew the demand was there,” he said. “I was working with a lifestyle magazine. So we took a chance in producing the show, buying the (advertising time) and selling the ads ourselves...and it paid off.”
He added that when launching the television show his intention was to reach the readers of their magazine.
“Initially the estimate was to reach the same audience, but then each of those channels had their own built in audience, so we were having people coming to Cottage Life Show that didn’t know there was a magazine.”
Do-it-yourself television has seen a rise in popularity since the early ‘90s and there is no stopping it, said Angela Jennings, president of Fusion Television. She’s also a producer of lifestyle series such as Divine Design and Colour Confidential.
The shows take viewers through the process of transforming homes from their original look to an inspired space, while giving them home improvement tips along the way. She said these shows empower viewers.
“People have become empowered over the years as these genres became demystified,” Jennings said. “In the '80s, only wealthy people hired interior designers.”
“By expanding the popularity of these things via television, they became more accessible to the average person and hence was born the, ‘I can do that!’ attitude that permeates DIY programming,” she added.
Maria Armstrong, (no relation to Tony Armstrong) is the executive producer of Big Coat Productions; she credits the popularity of the DIY genre to people’s growing interest in being self-reliant.
“I think people want to learn to do things and do them well whether it’s decorating or cooking,” she said.
She underlined the importance of informing people, and said the entertainment aspect of the show has to play a key role.
“The genre is heading in more of the reality type approach,” Maria Armstrong said.
“People want to be entertained as there are so many videos focused at ‘how-to’ so the television programs have to inform as well as entertain.”
Tony Armstrong agreed that shows need to entertain,but said it’s important they focus on the project rather than the people.
“When I first started in this was the legitimacy of it that was entertaining,” he said. “The people who wanted to turn their barn into a house were interesting people, but the barn was the star of the show.”
The DIY Network offers online programming with expert advice on home improvement projects. Tony Armstrong said more networks should look to the Internet.
“If you want to paint your living room and you turn on HGTV and there is nothing on painting, your curiosity hasn’t been satisfied,” Tony Armstrong said.
“So broadcasters need to take the leap of faith and start programming for the web.”