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Cooking Up a Web Show

Aug 15, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In November Food Network will launch its first Web-only TV show, a 13-episode series covering food trends. That the ad-supported online show costs as much to produce as a two-hour on-air special underscores the network’s belief in broadband.

The show, which has yet to be named, will be hosted by Dave Lieberman, the front man for the network’s Saturday afternoon program “Good Deal With Dave Lieberman.” It will be shot on location specifically for broadband. That’s a big change from how Web content has been produced previously by cable networks, including Food Network.

Rarely do networks shoot original material for the Web. Programmers traditionally have offered promotional video online or have edited material from on-air content into short, easily digestible Internet versions. Another innovative aspect of the Food Network Web series is that the linear network will run 60-second interstitials from the Web content, essentially allowing the online platform to feed the linear beast.

“We are doing everything we can with all our Web sites to jump out ahead of the pack with original broadband content,” said Doug Parker, director of Foodnetwork.com.

The series will cover food trends such as new restaurants, cheap wines, gourmet chocolates and popular kitchen gadgets. The program will be shot in five cities: New York, Philadelphia and three others to be determined. Each episode will include footage from two to three cities. Mr. Lieberman will visit hip spots such as New York’s Chocolate Bar, a coffee shop-style eatery that features chocolate in all forms, or Cereality, a chain of cereal bars in Chicago, Philadelphia and the Phoenix area, said Lia Wievemann, senior content producer for the site.

Food Network will post three new episodes each week starting Nov. 21. Each episode is only two minutes long, but bonus footage will be provided for all key points in each clip, allowing users to navigate in and out of the episode into longer clips. The shows are structured that way because consumer focus groups have shown that 90 seconds is about the maximum time span most consumers have for online video, Mr. Parker said.

“We are trying to go slightly over and expand it. That’s why we are doing two minutes,” he said. But offering more video will allow viewers to dig through additional scenes, effectively giving them more control over the viewing experience. For instance, Mr. Lieberman might visit a sushi bar for 20 seconds in the main episode, but the show could offer a link to another 10 minutes of video in the sushi bar for those interested in more.

The producers are aiming for a younger demographic, with the quick clips, snippets of information and ways to opt in and out. “It’s a whole different way of experiencing TV,” Mr. Parker said.

The ad-supported show will reside as the centerpiece of a new Flash-based mini-site within Foodnetwork.com and accessible from various pages of Foodnetwork.com. The show will be heavily promoted via an in-house ad campaign on all Scripps Networks Web sites. The network also plans to promote the show’s launch with an online campaign on food-oriented sites and on sites that attract a younger demographic. The network hasn’t chosen those sites yet, but they could include such Web destinations as the satirical newspaper TheOnion.com, on which Food Network has advertised in the past.

Mr. Parker said he expects to sell a handful of advertisers on category exclusivity with the show. “We are trying to create unique opportunities other than what we have done with typical ad units. We will try to make more customized space for advertisers,” he said. That could include unique Flash ads integrated into the site. The show will also include 15-second spots before the video starts. The 60-second interstitial for the on-air network will be sold to sponsors too.

Many online advertising agencies report that inventory for broadband video advertising is in high demand.

Other content housed in the mini-site will include a printable travel guide and related information on the cities Mr. Lieberman visits as well as recipes.

If the show is successful, it will likely be renewed. Also, the network is currently developing additional broadband shows. “We are pursuing tons more original content for broadband,” Mr. Parker said.

Original broadband content is still a new venture for most networks but it’s an area being actively investigated by numerous companies and should grow significantly in the next two to three years, said Will Richmond, president of market intelligence firm Broadband Directions.

A few networks have dabbled in the area. Earlier this year Lifetime introduced a series originally produced for broadband called “Kiss + Tell With Dr. Ian Kerner.” The network is currently prepping to unveil a more robust broadband-centric site later this year and is considering more original series for that as well.

In June Bravo introduced its first webisodes, running exclusive content from its “Sportkids Moms and Dads” series that followed a sixth family not seen on-air in eight webisodes.

MTV recently introduced After Shows, which are 15- to 20-minute broadband companion shows for some of its reality programs that delve into additional story lines and topics not covered on-air.