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Food Network Sinks Its Teeth Into Prime

Food Network is ramping up its entertainment-based nighttime programming, bringing some of its marquee names into prime and aiming to firmly set apart nighttime fare from the instructional cooking shows it runs during the day.

The network plans to premiere at least three new prime time entertainment series before this fall, trying to capitalize on the ratings success it’s seen from series like Iron Chef America and The Next Food Network Star.

Coming in June are Two for the Road, a cross-country search for local treats starring Food Network chef Paula Deen’s sons Jamie and Bobby, and Throwdown with Bobby Flay, a cooking-competition series in which longtime network personality Bobby Flay challenges experts in various specialties to duels. In September, the network will premiere Paula’s Cooking Party (working title), a more saucy version of Deen’s daytime show, featuring audience interaction.

The goal, says senior VP, Programming, Bob Tuschman, is to compete with other information-based networks with prime time programming that is “dramatic, compelling, funny and entertaining.” Networks such as TLC, A&E and Bravo have all evolved their brands in viewers’ minds by finding hit reality series in prime.

Food, owned by Scripps Networks, sees its biggest audience during its daytime In the Kitchen block with its target 25-54 female demo tuning in to see instruction-based cooking shows from homegrown network personalities such as Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray and Deen. The network averages about a .65 household rating in the demo on weekend days and about a .35 during prime, says senior VP of Marketing and Creative Services Michael Smith.

The challenge, says Smith, is, “How do you harness that power you’ve got in weekend and day and use it to drive ratings and prime? People think of us as a network for great personalities and cooking and not entertainment. The network you love at 4 p.m. can be the network you love at 10 p.m.”

To that end, the network plans to continue pushing the marketing campaign it launched last year, promoting prime with the tagline “way more than cooking.”  Food continues to evolve its daytime lineup as well; later this year, Food add well-known chef Nigella Lawson to its Sunday daytime lineup with sensual-food-themed Nigella Feasts.

Food is also slowly making its way into the multiplatform world. With video-on-demand content on Time Warner and Comcast systems, a mobile deal with Sprint and deals to distribute syndicated broadband content to MSN and Yahoo!, Food will launch in HD in June with about 3 million homes on EchoStar, and plans a broadband spinoff site for later this year.

Food, however, isn’t going to rush onto emerging platforms solely to keep pace with others in the cable pack, Smith says – its average viewer is a 48-year-old suburban housewife who “doesn’t have a video iPod or a Web-enhanced cellphone” quite yet.