Saturday, February 20, 2010

Another Cable Helping for Food Lovers


FOR the upfront season of advance television advertising sales, Scripps Networks has something new to share with clients: a second 24-hour cable channel for food lovers and the advertisers who love them.

Scripps, the owner of the Food Network, plans to turn on the Cooking Channel on Memorial Day, May 31, this year, enhancing its position in the category of kitchen programming. Before meetings with advertisers, the company is announcing half a dozen series for the channel on Friday, including new ones starring Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray. It might as well be called Food Network, the Sequel.

About two years ago, when the company started considering a second culinary channel, “the advertiser demand for Food was outstripping the audience growth,” Jon Steinlauf, the senior vice president for ad sales for Scripps Networks, said this week. “Therefore, creating a second channel started making more sense.”

The Cooking Channel, which is a replacement for Fine Living Network, FLN, a low-rated lifestyle channel, was announced last fall. At that time, Scripps said the channel would focus on information and instructional programming, much as the Food Network did before it gravitated toward higher-rated reality competitions like “The Next Food Network Star.” In recent months, Scripps has altered its plans for the second channel to include more entertaining fare.

“We listened to the audience and realized they weren’t necessarily saying they just wanted more instruction or more reality or more travel shows. They just wanted more,” said Michael Smith, the general manager of the Cooking Channel.

The craving for food programming is insatiable, Scripps executives like to say. (They rarely pass up opportunities for food puns; the first press release for the Cooking Channel said that “the time has come for us to have our cake and eat it, too.”) The ratings were up markedly for the Food Network last year, and shows set in kitchens have flourished on other channels.

“When you see Fox lining up its third Gordon Ramsay cooking show in prime time, I think food’s arrived as a mainstream genre,” Mr. Steinlauf said.

Naturally, Scripps wants to capture as much market share as it can. “If there are 1.2 rating points available for food programming, we want to be able to get the 0.9 on Food and the 0.3 on the Cooking Channel,” he said. “For this to be a good business for Scripps, we have to be able to grow the combined audience for these channels.”

Mirrored channels are not unprecedented on cable, where further fragmentation seems certain. ESPN has ESPN2, MTV has MTV2, and CNN has HLN, formerly called Headline News. Mr. Smith says he expects the Cooking Channel’s core viewers will be the ones he calls “hyper-passionate fans” of Food — the recipe bloggers, the Yelp reviewers, the amateur chefs.

Read the rest of the story here.

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