Food Network Cooks Up Ratings Success

Food Network — once considered a service — has seen its broader and more lifestyle-oriented new programming serve up some impressive ratings.

The seven-year-old network has evolved from a "how-to" channel to a more entertainment- and personality-driven service built around the cuisine concept. Buoyed by an enhanced programming lineup that will offer more than 963 hours of original fare in 2001, the new shows have helped drive Food to record ratings.

Food averaged a 0.5 primetime rating in the second quarter, up 25 percent over last year's figures, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

The E.W. Scripps Co.-owned network has also experienced significant subscriber growth: Food is now in front of more than 62 million households, with the potential to reach 65 million by year's end, said president Judy Girard.

National Cable Television Cooperative senior vice president of programming Frank Hughes said the network is one of the organization's top five most-launched services so far this year.

"They've been successful in making the service have a much more broader appeal," he said.

Food's primetime transformation began in earnest last year, when the network began to expand its original programming beyond traditional kitchen-based cooking shows to lifestyle-oriented, food-related offerings. As a result, it's been able to attract both on-screen and production talent not usually associated with typical cuisine-oriented programs, said senior vice president of programming, production and operations Eileen Opatut.

The network, for example, has signed Survivor II
contestant Keith Famie to host a new series, Keith Famie's Adventures.
Famie, who is also an accomplished chef, will travel to several countries in search of exotic foods as part of the series that debuts Nov. 5, Opatut said.

Heading into the new season, Food continues to incorporate other programming genres, like sports, into its niche. Appetite for Adventure
that premiered last month, combines gourmet food with outdoor adventures, including skydiving, sailing, biking and cross-country skiing.

Opatut said the network's programming alliances with the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have helped Food to draw male viewers to the once female-targeted service. Opatut said its men now make up 45 percent of its audience.

Other new shows, such as Unwrapped
(which debuted this summer) allow Food to tap into pop culture, reaching younger viewers. The show reveals magical mysteries behind pop-culture foods from Twinkies to Tootsie Pops.

The network is also tackling the reality genre with Cooking School Stories, which follows six students through their final semester.

"None of them are dating each other, or anything dramatic like that, but it's highly engaging and you get inside of what makes their minds tick," Opatut said.

Added Girard: "The more that we can convince people that we're not a cooking channel, the better. It's become a great experience for viewers. It's not a passive viewing experience."

While pushing the boundaries of lifestyle food shows, Food will continue to offer educational-based programs that teach viewers the kitchen's finer points.

Series set to premiere this fall include: Cooking Thin, a weekly program advising viewers how to cook light meals; Sara's Secrets, which furnishes tips on how to cook for large gatherings; and 30-Minute Meals
which explores ways to prepare quick-but-satisfying meals.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.