For TV Networks, the Digital Food Experience Can Mean Different Things

/ Feb 26, 2014


TV doesn’t just live on TV anymore — that’s a basic fact of the current media landscape. But when networks engage with the digital space, that doesn’t mean they all have the same approach; based on need and audience, a number of different strategies are currently in play. And two extremes can be found in how Bravo and Scripps approach the web with its food-related properties.

When Scripps launched ulive in June 2013, it was billed as a Hulu-like platform for the lifestyle vertical. But while, like Hulu, ulive has a large library of content from Scripps’ broadcast channels (including DIY, HGTV, and Food Network), ulive also hosts a collection of web-original content on par with its library content.

Part of that is due to how ulive is not a complete collection of everything ever aired on Scripps networks. “We actually don’t have ulivepagethe entire library — it’s a very curated experience,” VP of ulive Brand Marketing and Data Strategy Jeffery Kissinger said via phone. “We’ve curated different things around the wellness lifestyle.”

But in addition, Scripps SVP of programming of ulive Amy Emmerich said that since its launch, ulive has produced about 70 (yes, seventy) original series for the web, all focusing on various aspects of that concept of “the wellness lifestyle.”

ulive’s digital series focus not necessarily on recipes, but on how those recipes fit into healthy living. “I don’t think one person leads one life,” Emmerich said. “If you’re a mom and you have a job, then you’re trying to fit everything in. We try to pull that story into one place. If you were looking to tell a food-only story, we would want you to work with the Food Network. We try to find someone who, if they’re making a food item, it’s wellness first.”

With an emphasis on seeking out talent that already has a digital following, this has led to series like “TV Dinner with jamieshupakFriends,” where Jamie Shupak (on-air talent for New York-based NY1) learns to eat healthy with the help of other healthy-eating bloggers. There’s also “Yoga Rebel,” in which host Tara Stiles shows how she fits having fun and going out into her practice.

Will you be seeing “Yoga Rebels” on HGTV anytime soon? Probably not — currently, there is no crossover between ulive programming and Scripps’ TV networks.

Part of that is the simple fact that, in Emmerich’s words, “With a lot of stuff we’re focusing on, I’m not sure it has a place on air. What works online might not work [on television].” In addition, a lot of the talent driving ulive programming isn’t as seasoned as those anchoring its broadcast properties.

“We’re working with some new, younger talent that needs some more experience,” Emmerich said. “But we are seeking that sweet spot for what might convert, and would love the success story of someone who can go to on-air.”

UPDATE: ulive, per their representation, is “a site and distribution network dedicated to videos for the way you live, which include all categories of parenting, food, DIY, wellness, home and travel.” The site has a focus across multiple categories.

While the line between digital and broadcast programming for Scripps is currently quite firm, that’s not the case for Bravo. The NBCU-owned network treats its digital properties as extensions of its broadcast programming — to the exclusion of web-original content. “The content that works best with Bravo fans is content related to the shows,” Lisa Hsia, EVP of digital for Bravo, said via phone. “The holy grail for us has been creating content which really extends what happens on the air.”

In the case of the reality cooking competition “Top Chef,” this means supplemental video including extended interviews, judge’s panels, and the series “Top Recipe,” which features recipes cooked on the show. But its biggest success story has been the Emmy-
nominated companion series “Last Chance Kitchen.”

In “Last Chance Kitchen,” chefs who have just been eliminated from the main show compete for the opportunity to re-enter the game, going up against each other in head-to-head matches. Last man or woman standing rejoins the competition during the finale; in Season 10, eliminated chef Kristen Kish not only won “Last Chance Kitchen,” but the show’s top prize as well.

— lastchancekitchen2

For more intel on what’s happening with food content on the web, check out some of the other pieces in our VIDEO FOOD FEST special issue. We’re not done yet, either, with more to come throughout this week!

“‘Top Recipe’ is really for fans who really want to learn more about cooking,” Hsia said. “‘Last Chance Kitchen’ takes the story to a deeper level, really connecting the on-air and the digital platforms and impacting what happens. It was really a breakthrough for us.”

But while Bravo’s approach to creating content is focused only on supporting its television properties, its distribution strategy is extremely liberal. Rather than rely on a single platform for distribution, Bravo takes a more “platform agnostic” approach. “We always want to push to,” Hsia said. “But we recognize that content lives everywhere.”

Thus, episodes of “Last Chance Kitchen” can be found everywhere from the official site to cable VOD systems to Amazon and iTunes (where “Top Chef” does “incredibly well”). “It’s important that the content that drives shows be available everywhere, and it helps you find new audiences,” Hsia added. “Fans are amazing — wherever the content exists, they find the best way for them to watch it.”



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