Cable Nets Hungry for Food Ads

Syfy and TLC add new series to an ever-growing pot

With an eye toward capturing
a slice of the
nearly $12 billion food
ad market, some less-likely programmers
are cooking up new
shows that were once the forte of
only Food Network and PBS.

NBC Universal’s Syfy is developing
a series starring former
Top Chef
contestant Marcel Vigneron.
And TLC, which found
success with Cake Boss and
BBQ Pitmasters, is planning a
further expansion into food with
a new show, The Food Buddha,
starring Rodelio Aglibot, the
chef and owner of Chicago’s
Sunda restaurant.

Syfy and TLC are expanding
the roster of networks adding
entries to the food game. Bravo,
IFC and Travel Channel have
all found the genre rich in both
viewers and advertisers. Scripps,
which owns Food, is going so far
as to rebrand FLN as The Cooking
Channel starting May 31.
And the Oprah Winfrey Network
plans at least one show starring
chef Cristina Ferrare.

It helps that the genre has a
large built-in advertiser base,
with companies like General
Mills and Kraft, as well as related
products like kitchen accessories
eager to market their
wares in a down economy. Food
marketing spending was nearly
$12 billion in 2009, according
to Advertising Age. Related
fields, like soft drinks and liquor
companies, added billions more
to the total.

“There is a lot of endemic
advertising for these types of
shows,” says Brad Adgate,
senior VP of Horizon Research.
“It lets networks put something
on that is not expensive, advertisers
like it, and there are a lot
of product placement opportunities,
if nothing else.”

Set to debut in June, The Food Buddha
will find Aglibot going into local restaurants
and ordering everything on the menu. At
the end of the 30-minute program, he will
incorporate elements from the meals he’s
eaten into items at his own restaurant.

“[The Food Buddha] takes us out of the
dessert category we have been working in,”
says Eileen O’Neill, president and general
manager of TLC. “It is a really ad-salesfriendly
and diverse category for us.”

Bravo, which has carved its own niche
in the food competition genre with Top
and Top Chef Masters, continues to
add programming in that arena. The network
has another spinoff, Top Chef: Just
, on tap for later this year, and has
two other competition series in development,
Commander In Chef and Around the
World in 80 Plates

“Food is one of those things that people
are passionate about,” says Susan Malfa,
senior VP of national advertising sales
for Bravo. “That is ultimately what the
payoff is for advertisers; people are passionate
about that affinity, there is high
engagement, and that drives high results
for advertisers.”

Networks are looking to cultivate that
engagement by differentiating themselves
from the competition with unique formats
or the personalities of the stars. As Adgate
points out, the genre is not new, but given
the advertising opportunities, one shouldn’t
expect networks’ appetite for these shows
to slow anytime soon.

“Since the days of Julia Child and The
Galloping Gourmet
, there have always
been cooking shows on television,” Adgate
says. “Just not to the extent of what we are
seeing now.”