Even in the early days of the Food Network, officials knew it would be hard for home cooks to keep up with the chefs on TV. While viewers might be inspired to try something new in the kitchen, noting the recipes and optimal cooking methods posed a challenge.
That led to the 1995 launch of the Food Network website, an online presence that has continued to grow with its broadcast big brother. Today, the site leads the digital cooking division of Scripps Network, spawning several apps and inspiring the sites of sister networks like the Cooking Channel as well as food.com.
Bob Madden, general manager and senior VP for the digital food category at Scripps Networks Interactive. "Our mission at Food Network is to connect people to the joy and power of food. â¦ Digital is right in the middle of delivering the value proposition."
Today, FoodNetwork.com has a database of roughly 50,000 recipes. (The most popular? Alton Brown's macaroni and cheese, except in November, when his turkey recipe briefly takes the crown.) And year to date, it has attracted 23 million unique visitors, nearly one-quarter the number of people who watch the cable channel each year. (By the end of November, that number will have jumped to 30 million.)
As Food Network TV has evolved, though, so have its Web properties. The site is no longer just a recipe repository. It has become an extension of many television brands -- as well as a place the network can offer original content that complements the on-air brand.
"Healthy doesn't make great TV shows," notes Madden. "It's not the most entertaining thing. But our online fans are very into it, so we create original content franchises around healthy cooking. There's 'Bobby Flay Fit,' for example, where he talks about how he deals with his health. Or there's cooking with kids. That doesn't always work on air, but it works well online."
The network's digital arm also offers cross-platform continuations of on-air shows, such as the "Chopped" judges making a meal of the show's most difficult basket, or Brown revealing the sabotages in "Cutthroat Kitchen" to that week's judges.
While FoodNetwork.com remains the flagship, Scripps has also put out 10 Food Network apps, ranging from narrowly focused recipe books to broader cooking apps with meal planners and video clips to an archive of destinations profiled on Food Network shows.
With the digital audience becoming more and more mobile (40% of the traffic to the website now comes from mobile devices, vs. just 5% two years ago), the apps were a logical extension -- and they also add an additional revenue source.
Madden says Scripps doesn't break down income by individual properties, so he declined to give details on the financial performance of the Food Network websites. However, he says, it's not insignificant -- and the benefits extend far beyond dollars and cents.
"It's certainly a growth area in our company," he says. Additionally, the division "is a very powerful, 24/7 connection to the brand. Digital can follow you to the kitchen; it can follow you to the supermarket and to your dining-room table."