Cooking and watching TV: it’s a culinary combination that’s been a staple of the small screen since Philip Harben whipped up a batch of lobster vol-au-vents for BBC viewers way back in 1946 (look it up, kids). But try asking Harben to remind you how many tablespoons of olive oil he said to add to the saucepan and see how far it gets you.
Of course, Harben died in 1970, a situation which certainly doesn’t help the promptness of his reply. But to be fair, even when he was still with us, his program (Cookery) offered little in the way of interactivity.
Needless to say, digital offers a buffet of opportunities to enhance how-to experiences like cooking. And, with its multiplatform, entertaining, and interactive approach, Discovery Inc.’s Food Network Cooking app aims to take cooking shows to a whole new level.
“I remember watching Julia Child on WGBH in Boston when I was growing up. Back then, unless your living room TV was near the kitchen or you actually had a small TV in your kitchen, you couldn’t actually make it along with her,” said Tim McElreath, Discovery, Inc’s Senior Product Manager of Emerging Platforms. “Now you can just bring your iPad or Fire tablet or your Echo show over to your kitchen counter.”
Launched in October 2019, Food Network Kitchen provides on-demand cooking classes, which incorporate an option for online grocery shopping to secure all the right ingredients. However, the strategy doesn’t stop there. Food Network Kitchen also offers interactive cooking instruction with some of the biggest names in culinary television across a wide range of platforms.
Live and lively
“Right now, we’re doing up to 10 live broadcasts a day out of New York and Los Angeles. We’re also doing more and more on-location broadcasts,” said McElreath. “So, we’ll have, say, Bobby Flay up in Chelsea Market on a Sunday demonstrating how to make a chorizo omelet or something like that. He’ll walk you through and try to do it at a pace so that you can cook along. And if you’re watching on a mobile, you can type in a question. It’ll get relayed to the chef by a monitor and then they’ll answer you. Or if they can’t answer it, someone will answer it for you. So your question will get answered.”
“What we’ve seen is that our talent really starts to shine in a live context. They’re great at producing polished scripted programming. But if you get somebody like Michael Simon in front of the camera, talking extemporaneously… He’s just a great raconteur. He can just talk your ear off while he’s cooking. He’ll talk about his experiences, he’ll talk about his family, he likes to talk about how his dad taught him to cook.”
Sometimes the questions submitted during a live broadcast aren’t about the recipe being made, they’re about the chef and their experiences and how they learned to cook. These kinds of questions are also welcome. “It prompts them to start telling a little bit more about themselves.”
Beyond the live programs, Food Network Kitchen also boasts a library of more than 800 on-demand classes. Many of these are bundled into courses, such as Rick Bayless’s traditional Mexican cooking course.
“We also have courses by cooking types, so we have a baking course, a grilling course, and things like said,” said McElreath. “Each class within a course has a recipe associated with it. But if you watch the course, get the gist of the recipe, and then want to make it again later without necessarily watching the whole course over again, we have regular step-by-step text recipes that you can walk through as well.”
Listening to audio opportunities
For McElreath, the big focus with Food Network Kitchen has been to build the smoothest possible virtual smart-screen situation for at-home chefs, while also providing customers with a value proposition.
The approach McElreath and his team are using for the Food Network Kitchen app – interactivity, value, and entertainment – is an extension of the work they’d been doing on Alexa and Google Assistant.
“We’d been working on voice platforms since early 2016, and it’d been largely kind of a research and development type group for experimenting with the capabilities of the platform,” said McElreath. “The voice multi-mobile platforms were so new that, across the board, people were just kind of making things up as they went to try and figure out how it fit in with their digital strategy. But we’d done a lot of experimentation for things like searching for recipes and recommendations on both the voice and the smart-screen platforms.”
Ease and extensions
For Food Network Kitchen, part of this strategy is making the app available on Amazon Alexa and Echo Show, Fire Tablets, Fire TV streaming media devices, and Fire TV Edition smart TVs. This gives McElreath and his team an opportunity to integrate some of the work they’d already done while also extending the platform out to a very specific situational interaction.
“You know, if somebody’s looking to take a cooking class, and we have a set of ingredients, it should be very easy to get the exact ingredients delivered very quickly,” he explained. “And since we’re on TV, Mobile, and Smart Screen, you can watch something on TV and say, ‘Okay, I want to save the recipe I’m watching right now,’ which shows up in your saves on Mobile while you’re out shopping so that you’re able to use that as your shopping list, after which you’ll go home and be able to walk right over to your kitchen counter and be able to pull up that recipe on Smart Screen without having to search for it again.”
Mind you, with audiences expecting such interactivity between their devices, content companies are going to have to step up their game. Fortunately, McElreath has already considered the many possibilities that exist beyond the kitchen.
“We have a lot of short-form how-to videos like how to chop an onion, how to poach an egg, and things like that. And if we have a content template, then I think there’s a pretty big opportunity to start thinking about applying it to some of our other Discovery brands.”