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Fieri Has Recipe for Luring Younger Viewers to Food Network

Feb 15, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Since adding some youth to its recipe, Food Network has been really cooking, setting ratings records for 2008.
One surprise ingredient has been Guy Fieri, who came out of nowhere to win “Next Food Network Star” in 2006. Since then he’s become the star of two popular shows on the network, Sunday morning cooking show “Guy’s Big Bite” and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” its top-rated series in primetime.
He’s also hosting the limited series “Ultimate Recipe Showdown,” which is completing its second season. As part of an integrated marketing deal, he also acts as a spokesman for that show’s sponsor, TGIF Restaurants, which puts his face on menus and signs in its eateries.
Between the three shows, he is seen by 15 million viewers each week.
Food Network is teaming up with Mr. Fieri in other ways as well, partnering with him on his “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” cookbook, a New York Times bestseller.
And he’s a hit at the live events that Food Network sponsors, such as the New York Food & Wine Festival last fall and this week at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

“Guy is a very big personality and has become a big star for us in a relatively short period of time,” said Food Network President Brooke Johnson. “Certainly we did not expect to get that kind of result out of ‘Next Food Network Star.’”
It was a shock for Mr. Fieri as well.
“I don’t think I could have ever imagined it was gonna be such a whirlwind of challenges, personal growth and opportunity,” he said via e-mail. “My life went from making food for thousands to making it for millions.”
About five years ago, Food Network was concerned about its median viewer age, which was between 51 and 52, close to the top end of the 25-to-54-year-old demographic it targets.
“We started looking for formats and shows and talent that could drive our median age down,” Ms. Johnson said. Now, the network’s median age is 48.
“Guy certainly represents that in spades. He’s a kind of rock ’n’ roll chef and he has a very youthful demeanor, style and mode of expression,” Ms. Johnson said.
Finding Mr. Fieri was one of those happy accidents that provide spice to the TV business.
Ms. Johnson admits that when Mr. Fieri won “Next Food Network Star,” she wasn’t overly impressed with him.
“I worried that he was a little bit too hip for the room,” she said. “I’m just very happy that I was wrong, wrong, wrong about that.”
That was partly because she hadn’t yet met him in person.
She remembers meeting Mr. Fieri while she was giving some visitors a studio tour. He was shooting early episodes of “Guy’s Big Bite,” and he made her a believer.
“I knew then,” she said. “He’s very much in the moment, and when he’s talking to you he’s not looking over your shoulder. He’s not thinking about anything else except you.”
That quality explains the success of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” she said. “He makes those people and those restaurants fascinating, and that’s because he is genuinely fascinated.”
The success of “Diners” is one reason Food Network increased its primetime viewership among adults 24 to 54 by 16%, putting it in the top 20 among ad-supported cable networks. Operating revenue was up 11.4% to $486 million in 2008; in the fourth quarter, revenues were up 5.1% to $127.6 million.
So far this year, “We’ve seen ad sales slow down a little bit, but we’re still doing fine,” Ms. Johnson said.
Food Network has been moving to generate more revenue outside its traditional television business. One way to do that is by building brands and products around its personalities, particularly newer ones such as Mr. Fieri, as opposed to Emeril Lagasse or Rachael Ray, who are industries unto themselves.
“Because [Mr. Fieri] came up through ‘Star,’ and also because of his personality, we’re in much more of a partnership relationship. We feel we’re in a ‘steward this new talent’ relationship,” Ms. Johnson said.
The network worked closely with Mr. Fieri on his cookbook and gets a share of the revenue.
Given the first book’s success, Ms. Johnson suspects there will be another.
“It’s a different relationship than with some of the original talent on Food Network,” Ms. Johnson said.
Food Network also is involving its personalities, including Mr. Fieri, in more advertising deals.
In addition to Mr. Fieri, other former “Next Food Network Star” contestants are hosting Food Network programs.
Last year’s winner, Aaron McCargo Jr., did the original six episodes of the series he won, “Big Daddy’s House.” The ratings were strong and Food Network picked him up for13 more episodes.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that we may have caught lightening in a bottle again, or that our thoughtful strategy for developing new talent at the network has proven fruitful once again,” Ms. Johnson said.
And runner-up Adam Gertler is hosting “Will Work for Food” on the network. Ms. Johnson said it’s too early to make a decision about his show.
But Food Network’s not batting 1.000 with “Star.” Amy Finley, who won the year after Mr. Fieri, decided not to do television, instead moving with her family to France.
As much as the network would like to do more with Mr. Fieri, Ms. Johnson doesn’t see that as likely in the short term.
“We would probably use him more than we do if we could, but because of his family obligations, his business obligations and the stuff we already have him doing, there isn’t all that much room,” she said.
Food Network makes 39 episodes a year of “Bite” and “Diners.”
Mr. Fieri said being on Food Network has helped his five restaurants under the Johnny Garlic’s and Tex Wasabi’s brands.
“Without question the national exposure and show popularity has been a welcomed addition,” he said. “We have had to make internal operational changes to account for my busy schedule accommodating the shows, but we feel the positive opportunities far outweigh any changes that are necessary.”
Mr. Fieri also wants to expand in the TV business, possibly hosting other types of shows, or even producing.
“I always wanted to do a sitcom and game show,” he said. “In my world of food, I want to make people go ‘wow,’ and I hope to continue to do that in the TV world, too.”
Will Mr. Fieri become such a big star that he might leave Food Network behind?
“We like to think that you never outgrow the Food Network,” Ms. Johnson said, pointing to Rachael Ray. While Ms. Ray has her own syndicated show, she still does episodes of “30 Minute Meals” and makes other appearances on the network.
“If you care about food, you want to stay associated with the Food Network,” Ms. Johnson said. “I think the world of Guy and I think he can do anything, but he cares about food, so I see him having a long and fruitful and intense association with Food Network.”

83 Comments

  1. People love him!

  2. Fieri is certainly approachable and game for almost anything as his appearances on “DD&D” prove. His Guy Off The Hook series of live audience half-hours and guest shots on Food Network holiday specials show he plays well with others. He could be the ideal next-door neighbor. I only worry about one thing…if the median age of a FN viewer is 48…why do I still watch and I’m 57? (Fieri’s opponent when it came down to the last two, Reggie Southerland, recently guested on Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee and carried himself nicely, even partaking of the Mardi Gras-themed cocktail Ms. Lee created. Maybe, like Adam Gertler, he’ll wind up with his own show.)

  3. it’s the hair.

  4. Network executives and people of the press aside, people love him until they meet him. Charming on camera, not so when no one else is around and the cameras aren’t rolling.
    I’ve met Fieri several times, and each time I’ve walked away appalled at his callous, insolent, sophomoric, rude and insulting behavior. Once, I could understand – we all have a bad day. But several times? ugh.

  5. As a close personal friend of guido, what you see is what you get.
    The personality he has on diners is no different than when we all are just hanging out. You Rock Bro!!!!

  6. I love that Guy Fieri added Alaska and Hawaii to the list Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Not sure why he doesn’t visit Colorado as I don’t see it on the map. We went to Chicago over the New Years and visited all those places. Frosted Mug was closed and the Mac and Cheese at Dell Rheas Chicken Basket was extremely fattening and good!

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