Getting Food Right

Brooke Johnson, president of the Food Network and Cooking Channel, on the shift from cooking to watching

Last year, the Food Network extended its mission with the Cooking Channel. We catch up with Brooke Johnson to see how the lines between the two are being drawn.

So, why two networks? Was one network not serving the market?

Internally, at the time we said that 24 hours in the day were not enough.

What are the main differences between them?

The Food Network is about making food accessible. Cooking Channel is more global, more ethnic, [sometimes] a little more cutting edge. Cooking Channel is in 60 million homes, not quite half the size of Food Network, so we can do some experiments. I don’t think we would have done Chinese Food Made Easy on Food Network.

It seems that cooking competition shows are now the focus of the Food Network in prime time.

It’s unquestionably very popular, and has been for the last three years.

How much does actual cooking play a role in the programming?

It’s probably 40/60 on Food Network [40 percent being telling viewers how to cook]. Maybe it’s 50/50 on Cooking Channel, maybe [leaning toward] cooking instructional, which is someone sitting there telling you how to cook something.

Stand and stir?

We hate that phrase.

Sorry. That wasn’t meant to be insulting.

It’s alright. It just sounds a little pejorative. We use the term “cooking instructional” because it sounds better. And it plays a big role on both networks.

So cooking instructional has not taken a backseat?

Definitely not. I mean, there’s been a change. Years ago, cooking instructional programs were the highest-rated shows on the Food Network [and much of it was in prime time]. Now prime time, which is actually higher rated [than daytime], tends not to be cooking. Cooking is Monday through Friday daytime and Saturday mornings.

Is it the same for the Cooking Channel?

We run a potpourri of different kinds of programming in all its dayparts. Some of it’s food-related travel. Some of it’s cooking. So I would say the Cooking Channel is less segregated.

Who’s watching?

The people watching who cook tend to be more female. We’re more gender neutral in prime time. We’ve always said we’ve got people who watch the network because they love to cook, we have people who watch the network because they love food, and then we have people who watch the network because they, for whatever reason, just enjoy the genre.

How have your demographics changed over time?

There have been some subtle shifts. The median age over the last seven years has gone down. We definitely see younger people—mid-20s to mid-30s. They have more interest in preparing and eating food, and going out and being adventurous around food than they used to.

Men versus women?

We’re somewhere between 65/35 [Food Network] and 60/40 [Cooking Channel] female to male. When I came to Food Network seven years ago, I was surprised at that. I thought it was going to be a very, very female network. It also surprised me how many kids watch the Food Network.

How much does the economic climate play a role in people’s interest in food-related programming?

It’s hard to draw cause-and-effect relationships there. The conventional wisdom is that free media does better in bad economic times, period. And yes, we do think that there’s a cocooning, homing instinct when times are tough, and that applies to the world of food.

What’s the future of the genre?

It’s had a place in American television for 40 years now. I think it’s an enduring genre.

So the increased interest in food is not a fad?

I think things get hot and get cold. Game shows are in, game shows are out. Variety shows are in, variety shows are out. People have been interested in food and food preparation for millennia, I think. So yeah, I’m very bullish on that.

Do you cook?

Yes. Not well, but I’ve learned a thing or two since being at the Food Network.

Any culinary guilty pleasures?

Ice cream sandwiches made with vanilla ice cream and honey graham crackers.


Publish date: September 21, 2011 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT