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Zest Helps Stations Grow Healthy Branded Content

Branded content is becoming a mouthwatering component of TV station revenue, and one company is providing segments on food products that are healthy as well.

Zest TV does about 150 segments per year in which a registered dietician recommends products for stations in more than 40 markets, including 21 of the top 25, according to Carissa Bealert, who acquired the company two years ago.

Bealert is not just the CEO of Zest Communications. She’s a registered dietician who appears in some of the company’s segments.

Zest TV was founded seven years ago to support registered dieticians who acted as spokespeople for the Academy of Nutrition Dietetics, providing health information on TV news shows. When they represented the academy, dieticians could speak to specific brands and were supposed to be neutral experts.

But once their tour with the academy was over, they were still in demand from TV stations seeking authorities. And the academy preferred to have dieticians providing advice, rather than lifestyle experts or personal trainers, so Zest would put them on TV, and it began seeking out clients so that the dieticians could get paid for their work.

Bealert started her career as a broadcast journalist doing sideline reporting for CBS College Sports and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World. “I loved it. I just wanted to sink my teeth into something more substantial instead of just going from town to town,” she said.

Bealert went back to school to become a dietician. When she completed her internship four years ago, Zest sought her out because of her TV experience in the Orlando, Fla., market. Not long after that, she bought the company, which is based in Orlando and Los Angeles.

“I’m the on-air person in several of our markets because I live there and I enjoy being on-air, so I do that as well as coordinate and help with the production and the sales and the marketing and everything else that we do,” she said.

Getting the Word Out

Zest TV charges clients about $2,500 to appear in its segments. The segments are two to five minutes long; Zest tries to limit the number of non-competitive brands in them to about one per minute.

The segments are clearly marked as presented by the sponsors.

Zest TV writes the segments, creating questions that get the brand message out without sounding too much like a commercial.

Zest TV pays stations for airtime, mainly during local non-news shows.

“Once the stations understand that this is our business, and that they’re going to get a segment that looks good and somebody who is trained to be on TV, they enjoy that,” Bealert said. “And food is something the stations love. I always encourage our dieticians to leave extra food there. That never hurts in building a relationship.”

Some of the brands that Zest TV has worked with include BodyArmor, Tessemae’s Organic dressings, Mazola Corn Oil, and Applegate meats.

Branded content is becoming a bigger part of the advertising business. Bob Sullivan, senior VP of programming for station owner Tegna, said that 16 of Tegna’s stations do some form of branded content.

“We’re always looking for good content, good content providers,” he said. Segments like those provided by Zest TV provide “an opportunity to be connected with local companies as well as national, but mostly local companies, give them a forum to provide information about what they do, but obviously it also creates an additional revenue stream for the station, so there’s a payoff for the station in that regard,” Sullivan added.

Tegna’s KXTV plans to air 10 Zest segments this year on its Sacramento & Co. program.

“They provide content that applies towards our push for promoting a ‘New Year, New You’ on living a healthier lifestyle,” said Desiree Sheppard, the show’s producer. “It would be great if they could incorporate more items. By bringing in more items it would make their segment more visually interesting along with the show.”

Demand for nutrition segments is increasing among both stations and marketers, according to a study conducted by Zest TV. Among stations, 80% said they’re getting more pitches about nutrition and on average aired more 23% segments in 2016.

Zest TV is growing as well, according to Bealert. Last year was about getting more segments on more stations, and this year will be a focus on getting new business from additional brands.

Bealert said Zest’s 25 dieticians can decide not to promote products they don’t think are healthy.

“Dieticians have very different opinions on certain diet types, food types. So for us, more than just being sponsored segments, we are about educational component,” she said.

Bealert couldn’t recall a brand she’d personally rejected. “I feel brands like that haven’t sought us out. Brands we work with have some sort of underlying health message, or maybe they’re perceived as unhealthy and they want to change that perception,” she said.

She added that if she promotes a brand, it tends to be one she eats. For example if you go to her house, you’ll find Cabot Cheese, a client.

And she’s gotten hooked on some of the products she’s promoted. “We had a brand called Mamma Chia, which is a Chia seed pouch,” she said. “I eat them every day. Whenever I travel, I fly with them.”