Can Networks Keep Up With Demand for Food TV During COVID?
As channels, streamers and production companies navigate coronavirus challenges, they’re cooking up some special programming to satisfy fans.
Judging by social media, pandemic response efforts and shelter-in-place orders have directly resulted in a cooking and baking boom. Who knew that loaves of homemade sourdough would become trendy or that yeast would be hoarded?
And it comes as no surprise that TV cooking shows have also satisfied a craving for comfort, especially as more folks are home all day.
“Our programming now more than ever is serving as a much-needed respite to viewers who are looking for entertainment and escape, as well as for meal-time inspiration,” says Courtney White, president of Food Network. “And also, I think, a sense of community, especially during this time of social distancing.”
White adds that Food Network has seen double-digit increases in viewership in the past few weeks. “For two weeks in a row, Food Network has ranked as the number one non-news cable network for the weekend...reaching more than 17 million viewers.”
The network’s daily ratings are up a total of 27 percent, including significant spikes during daytime and primetime programming for shows like Beat Bobby Flay (+27 percent), Chopped (+13 percent) and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (+22 percent).
However, long-term effects of the pandemic on programming and production schedules are still unknown for networks and streaming services.
So far Hulu, according to a company spokesperson, has not been affected. The service offers a number of Food Network, FOX and Bravo programs, like Top Chef and Iron Chef America. It also has various other food-related original programs in the works, including projects with Chrissy Teigen and David Chang.
Amazon Prime and Netflix did not respond to a request for comment. But thanks to a deep bench of shows and a vast library of old one from around the world, the streaming giants could feel less of a burden in the short term when it comes to releasing new content.
But some production companies confirm that they are experiencing major delays.
“COVID-19 has affected every aspect of our business,” says Andrew Zimmern, who heads up Intuitive Content, which produces a number of food, drink and travel related programs, including his acclaimed What’s Eating America (airing on MSNBC), and Driven By Food (airing on the Travel Channel). “We have contracts with many networks, development and production. Some networks/clients are pushing release dates, all suspended shooting weeks ago and some are beginning to re-open shooting windows in areas where we can do so safely and with very strict health protocols in place.”
Production has had to be swift and adept at being able to pivot content to viewers’ changing needs, and Zimmern anticipates those needs will continue to shift—potentially on a weekly or biweekly basis. Currently, show models that he refers to as “in the kitchen” are having a renaissance.
“With delays in production we re-allocated most of our resources to development, then pivoted again to creating digital and branded programming that has proven to be exceptionally popular during the quarantine phase of this global crisis,” says Zimmern. “Now we are pivoting a third time in six weeks, looking at what types of content will be appealing in the months ahead as people return to work.”
White says that while Food Network and its related Cooking Channel have also experienced production interruptions, they work far enough in advance that they’re moving full steam ahead with scheduled programming and new projects.
“Similar to others, television production is not considered a critical need, so we have had to pause for the time being on anything that had more than 10 people or traveled to locations, which was everything on the spring production schedule,” says White.
For instance, hit cooking game show, Chopped, is meant to be in production right now, but those episodes wouldn’t have aired until 2021. Luckily, other shows set to air in the near future on both of its channels are already in post-production. Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition and Bakeaway Camp with Martha Stewart recently premiered. The Cooking Channel is also airing new seasons for a number of shows this month, including for Carnival Eats, Yum and Yummer and Man Fire Food.
In many markets, PBS has shifted much of its daytime food-centric shows to the early evening in order to accommodate a demand for children’s programming fueled by school closures.
“For afternoon blocks, where they usually do their cooking shows, they are presenting educational training for kids at home,” says Danielle Chang, host of the network’s Lucky Chow, which premiered its fourth season on May 2. Because her show usually airs in primetime, it hasn’t been affected by the scheduling changes.
Chang is also trying to satisfy the demand for more at-home cooking programs. On May 10, the first episode of her Lucky Chow Cook-Along, sponsored by American Express, aired on her LuckyRice.com.
The first cook-along featured mother and son duo Liv Wu, founder of Liv, Cook, Eat cooking school, and Erling Wu-Bower, chef and owner of Chicago’s Pacific Standard Time (watch it here). Future episodes, which will air Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET, will host guest chefs like Kristen Kish and Jet Tila.
“The mission of Lucky Chow is to share stories of Asian culture through food,” says Chang. “If I can get people to cook Asian food at home, it’ll help them to understand the diaspora of Asia—the difference between Chinese and Korean and Vietnamese foods and the staples that we share in common and the ones that we don’t. It’s going to be really fun.”
Food Network is also actively working on programming to reflect its viewers’ current home-bound situation. The first of these projects, The Kitchen’s Quarantine Edition: Pantry Pulls, debuted on April 4. Four more quarantine-centric specials are in the works, featuring Guy Fieri and his son, Robert Irvine, and Ree Drummond.
In addition, on May 28 at 10 p.m. ET, the network will air Questlove’s Potluck, which will benefit America’s Food Fund. He will play virtual host to a number of guests, including Tiffany Haddish, Kenan Thompson, George Lopez, Gabrielle Union and Zooey Deschanel, who will join in from their home kitchens.
White says these projects, which have had a quicker than usual turnaround time, have been “challenging in a positive way, forcing the team to be more creative and think about things with a different lens.”
Of course, you can also expect Food Network and the Cooking Channel to serve up extra helpings of binge-worthy marathons in coming weeks.
“Our talent resonates in a very special way for fans, who often feel a very strong connection with them,” says White. “The schedule of premieres, marathons, encores and special ‘quarantine-editions’ of shows are all opportunities we see to help us continue to serve up that comfort food TV we feel is so needed and wanted right now.”