Viewers Warm Up to Comfort Food

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 27, 2009 | Go to article overview

Viewers Warm Up to Comfort Food


Byline: Andy Fixmer and Sarah Rabil Bloomberg News

The Food Network and Travel Channel are attracting record audiences with shows such as "Man v. Food" as programs popular during the housing bubble go bust along with real estate prices.

"Food can take away the pain," said Shari Anne Brill, who analyzes audiences for New York-based Carat USA, which buys advertising for Papa JohnAEs International Inc. and Alberto-Culver Co. Real-estate shows have "gone by the wayside because now itAEs more about how to keep your home from going into foreclosure."

"The Next Food Network Star" and Travel ChannelAEs "Man v. Food," reality shows with contests and challenges, have attracted the biggest audiences ever to the two networks. Scripps Networks Interactive Inc., the Cincinnati-based owner of the Food Network, plans to press cable-system operators for higher fees based on the success of its shows.

"Food Network is literally blazing hot, which should work very much in our favor as we renew affiliate agreements later this year," Kenneth Lowe, chairman and chief executive officer of Scripps Networks, said on an Aug. 6 conference call.

The channelAEs ratings rose 20 percent in July from a year ago on the strength of "The Next Food Network Star," Lowe said. Since 2004, the prime-time audience for the Food Network has increased 55 percent to 1.06 million viewers nightly from 683,000, according to Nielsen Co. data. In the 18-49 age group advertisers target, Food Network is up 79 percent in five years.

Travel ChannelAEs ratings are up 35 percent in August from a year ago, boosted by "Man v. Food" and "Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern," said Karen Hansen, a spokeswoman. In the past five years, its 18-49 audience is up 46 percent, according to New York-based Nielsen.

Food Network President Brooke Johnson cites several trends at work. Immigration has introduced new cuisine to U.S. viewers.

Supermarkets and farmers markets have made fresh ingredients more widely available and more people are trying to re-create restaurant dishes at home.

That has spawned celebrity chefs, food-themed vacations and elaborate home kitchens, and ultimately interest in food shows, Johnson said in an interview.

"ItAEs a tipping point type of thing," said Johnson, who has led the network for five years. …

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