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The Food Network

Industrial Analysis

Conception and Development

The Food Network (legally the Television Food Network, GP) was launched on Thanksgiving weekend 1993 in New York, NY as a channel that specialized in programs about cooking, hospitality, food, restaurants, and general kitchen culture. Its headquarters are stationed in New York City and offices are located in various cities scattered across the country, including Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Knoxville. The Food Network is internationally available in Canada, Australia, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Monaco, Andorra, Africa, France, and the French-speaking territories in the Caribbean and Polynesia.

In 1997, the E.W. Scripps Company purchased a majority share of the channel from A.H. Belo Corp., and has since bought out every minority shareholder except for Tribune Co., which maintains a 31% share of the estimated $1 billion channel.[1][2]  Scripps Networks Interactive, an offshoot of E.W. Scripps Co., runs the Food Network inside a Lifestyle Media portfolio of channels, which includes HGTV, DIY Network, Cooking Channel, and Travel Channel. Further partnerships include purchasing featured kitchen utensils etc. on websites affiliated with the Scripps ownership, such as BizRate and Shopzilla.[3]

The Food Network currently broadcasts to 99 million television household nationwide.  Globally, the Food Network has expanded well beyond this number, as they have begun to distribute to both the United Kingdom and Asia since November 9, 2009 and July 5, 2010, respectively.[4]

Economic Evolution Under Providence and Scripps

Early on, the subject matter now covered under the cable umbrella of Scripps Networks Interactive was aired on PBS.  This included cooking shows like The French Chef with Julia Child and The Frugal Gourmet, as well as home, gardening and do-it-yourself programs like The New Yankee Workshop and This Old House.  The popularity of these shows caught the attention of the Providence Journal Company, which pitched the initial idea for a cable food channel.  Interest was immediate, as producers noted that such shows were inexpensive to produce and ripe for product placement, as 45 of the 100 top U.S. advertisers at the time were food-related.[5]

Providence Co. effectively used synergy within their own corporate network to boost the Food Network in its early days.  They gathered investors from among a handful of its own media holdings (including the then-dubbed Scripps-Howard Inc.) that were endowed enough to wait several years on initial investment return, and then used Providence's own cable system, Colony Communication, to distribute.  As an early strategy, Colony leveraged the Food Network into American householods by offering the channel free of charge to any cable system that agreed to carry it to at least 80% of their subscribers.[6]  Scripps used a similar tactic of synergy after it bought the Food Network in 1997, using its own ten TV broadcast stations to reach 10% of the national market, and then bartering offerings of the newly purchased HGTV for Food Network slots on another 54 stations.[7]  Since then, 90% of the Food Network's production has been done under the Scripps corporate umbrella, keeping outsourced spending to a minimum, while Scripps has also maintained diverse holdings in retail markets, including BizRate, Shopzilla, and various other "lifestyle" channels and websites (which all advertise for each other) in order to boost profits.  Together these tactics demonstrate a successful example of corporate synergy that has returned initial investment and then some, garnering ever-growing profits for the Food Network and Scripps since the early 2000's.[8]

Present Status and Success

The Food Network has expanded to provide online and print accompaniments through foodnetwork.com and Food Network Magazine.  Foodnetwork.com has enjoyed particular success, with over 198 million monthly hits among 7 million monthly visitors and an established audience base open to advertisers.  Indeed their site proudly displays audience demographics for available advertising, as the site has become such an integral and high-profile component to the Food Network's interactive brand.[9] Meanwhile published testimonials (like [this one] in the New York Times) of advertising success have given legitimacy to the site that now attracts more and more revenue.

Additionally, initial efforts to attract a wider demographic of young people and males have proven to be widely successful for Food Network profits.  Without alienating their original viewers (primarily older female "grocery decision makers"), the Food Network has managed to greatly appeal to the youth market in particular and subsequently sell that audience potential.  Food Network president Brooke Bailey Johnson notoriously won over such youth-oriented advertisers as McDonald's, Michelob, and Monster Worldwide after demographics began to noticeably change in 2006, and Food Network profits overall ended up boosting Scripps stocks by 22% in August of 2007 despite financial failures in every other media sector.[10]

Cable Pricing Controversy

Since offering their channel for free in the mid 1990's, The Food Network and connected HGTV have evolved considerable independence and popularity to maintain consistently high Nielsen ratings in cable, while Food Network in particular has grown immensely in viewer base over the past five years.  Despite this fact, however, pricing is still being negotiated for the worth of these growing channels, and controversy has arisen as a result.  Cablevision famously spotlighted such a controversy last year, when it dropped the Food Network without a renewed contract on December 31, 2009 and pulled it off the air for the entire NY/NJ/CT tri-state area.  The dispute was rooted in Cablevision's price for the Food Network, which at the time was 25 cents per subscriber per month, a number Scripps officials found to be grossly below what the Food Network could have feasibly charged, which cable subscribers agreed was closer to $1.03 per month.[11]

After a three-week debate, the Food Network was put back on the Cablevision airwaves (along with HGTV) with little damage to ratings.  Though the details of the pricing agreement were never disclosed, it was estimated that the Food Network received a raised rate to 49 cents during the negotiations, which would more than continue the channel's strong financial growth.[12]


Textual Analysis

Good Eats

Two pilot episodes were shot for Good Eats in 1997, showing the science and specifics behind steak and potatoes, respectively ("Steak Your Claim" and "This Spud's for You"), and after positive press from critics watching Chicago Public Television, the Food Network picked up the show and aired the first episodes on July 7, 1999.[13] Good Eats is a show classified more as a "traditional" take on cooking by the Food Network.  Hosted by culinary mastermind Alton Brown, it is described by the Food Network as “Pop culture, comedy, and plain good eating,"[14] and mixes a standard cooking show format with informative lessons on the science behind food.

Target audience

First and foremost, Good Eats is defined more by its host and style than by its content.  Because Food Network gears specifically towards "Grocery Decision Makers" (an audience it is also trying to expand) the charisma of Alton Brown makes the show more of a performance than a traditional cooking show, and thus draws more attention as a performance a variety of audiences rather than a cooking show geared specifically at women.  Audience members have written specifically of its merits for children [15] and the show has aired episodes directly addressing men in the kitchen with the aptly titled "Man Food Show," [16] which demands the women leave the room so that men can correctly cook the traditional man cuisine that is corndogs and hamburgers.[17]  This episode is an abberation, however, from the general image of genders supported in Good Eats and across the Food Network, which places women in the kitchen for preperation of daily meals, and men in the scientific or competitive realms that remain entirely separate, an image of separation that has begun to receive criticism from media scholars. [18]   However, because the kitchen is still seen as a gendered area, Alton Brown can directly address specifics audiences for specific episodes in a way that would be impossible for nearly any other format of episodic show.  The DIY's carpentry show Ten Grand in Your Hand similarly airs shows of the inverse influence, aiming specific episodes at women handywork such as "Single Seeks Country Kitchen/ I Am a Woman, Watch Me Saw."[19]

The Next Food Network Star

Originally filmed as a talent scouting expedition for the Food Network, The Next Food Network Star is now one of the Food Network's flagship shows, emphasizing the edgier competition-based side of Food Network material à la Iron Chef and Chopped.  The show pits 12 contestants against each other over a summer season, challenging them each week with a new feat of fooding and/or on-screen personality.  The finale names a champion, who is then given their own Food Network show, however over the past several seasons, more often than not a runner-up is offered some kind of job elsewhere on the network.[20][21]

Target Audience

A target audience of The Next Food Network Star is that of reality-shows. The competition allows for characters to develop as individual people, giving way to emotional connections between them and the audience. Those that enjoy watching the trials and tribulations of participants on reality sort of shows will enjoy this one as well. Also, seeing an ordinary person try and make it as a professional plays on the pathos of the viewer. Struggling up against adversity provides a relatable aspect of the battle towards the American Dream. 

Style and Tone

The Next Food Network Star is as focused on drama as it is on food, and emphasizes equal amounts food and reality TV. The show emphasized personal charisma of contestants, and in this way becomes strangely self-aware within the channel. Through rigorous tests of culinary expertise, on-screen personality, and originality of creation, the Food Network uses this show to not only emphasize an immense amount of creative pressure on competitors, but directly bolsters the credibility of its already established stars by the same standards. Competition is heated, serious, and rigorous. 

Industry Strategy

The Food Network put Next Food Network Star as a Sunday night standard because of its consistently high ratings, and over the summer season, the network never fails to play up the success of the show.  The most recent season (season 6) culminated in a 6.5 hour finale run on August 15th, 2010, which ran a series of contests up to the final decision,[22] naming Aarti Sequeira as the winner and the soon-to-be host of her show, Aarti Party.  Before the final decision was made, the popularity of the show was readily visible by published finale predictions posted by various followers around the web [23]

  1. Monk, Dan. Business Courier of Cincinnati. "Tribune's Food Network stake has Scripps' belly growling" April 4, 2008. http://cincinnati.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2008/04/07/tidbits1.html
  2. Owl Staff. Owl Beta. "A History of the Food Network" December 7, 2009. http://www.owl.com/article/2009/12/07/a-history-of-the-food-network
  3. Food Network. "About." (http://www.FoodNetwork.com/home/about-foodnetworkcom/index.html)
  4. Schroeder, Eric. Food Business News. "Food Network to launch in international markets" November 4, 2009. http://www.foodbusinessnews.net (Registration required to view entire article.)
  5. Ketchum, Cheri. "Tunnel Vision and Food." Ed. Sarah Banet-Weiser, Cynthia Chris, and Anthony Freitas. Cable Visions: Television beyond Broadcasting. New York, NY: New York UP, 2007. 162+. Print.
  6. Stern, Christopher. Broadcasting & Cable 123 no. 23. "Television Food Network Develops Strategy for Wider Carriage" June 7, 1993. 50. Print.
  7. Ketchum, Ibid.
  8. Ketchum, Ibid.
  9. Food Network. Advertise With Us - Audience Profile. http://www.foodnetwork.com/advertise-with-us-audience-profile/package/index.html
  10. Weber, Joseph. Bloomberg Business Week. "I Want My Food Network" January 8, 2007. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_02/b4016082.htm
  11. Scripp's Network. "Food Network, HGTV Enlist Viewers' Help To Keep Popular Lifestyle Networks on Cablevision" January 1, 2010. http://www.scrippsnetworks.com/newsitem.aspx?id=391
  12. Worden, Nat. The Wall Street Journal. "Cable Dispute Is Resolved" January 22, 2010. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703699204575017663118776990.html
  13. Good Eats Fanpage FAQ's. http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/FAQ/FAQ100s.htm#142
  14. Food Network. Good Eats Homepage. http://www.foodnetwork.com/good-eats/index.html
  15. Johnson, Chana M. BellaOnline: The Voice of Women. TV and Movies - Children's TV. http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art23756.asp
  16. Food Network. Man Food Page. http://www.foodnetwork.com/good-eats/the-man-food-show/index.html
  17. Brown, Alton. YouTube Video: The Man Food Show, ep. EA1G16. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHwasrpAx88
  18. Swenson, R. (2009). Domestic Divo? Televised Treatments of Masculinity, Femininity and Food. Critical Studies in Media Communication , 36-53.
  19. DIY Channel. Shows. Ten Grand in Your Hand. http://www.diynetwork.com/diy/episode_archive/0,1000626,DIY_33156_1062,00.html
  20. Saad, Jeffrey. "Cooking Without Borders" - About Jeffrey. http://jeffreysaad.com/about/
  21. Lynch, Rene. 'Next Food Network Star': It's a Party for Aarti and Tom, but what about Herb?' Los Angeles Times August 16, 2010. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2010/08/next-food-network-star-its-a-party-for-aarti-and-tom-but-what-about-herb.htmlfckLRfckLR====
  22. Food Network Program Guide. Week of: August 15 - August 21 2010. http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/programdaily/0,,FOOD_32078_8-15-2010_EST,00.html
  23. Waldman, Allison. 'The Next Food Network Star' Finale Predictions. TV Squad. August 13, 2010. http://www.tvsquad.com/2010/08/13/the-next-food-network-star-finale-predictions/fckLRfckLR=