Magazines are folding, media outlets are suffering, and advertising revenue is down across the board.
But for the Food Network, times have never been better—and ratings have never been higher.
Over the last year, the online readership of its website has more than doubled. Ad revenue on that website is up more than 40%
. The network is planning to launch fourteen new shows, including eight new shows in prime-time,
before the end of 2010. And whereas other publications have been slimming down or closing altogether, Hearst’s Food Network Magazine
is taking off—from a circulation of 400,000 this fall to a projected 1,100,000 this summer.
In the midst of such a media massacre, what has given this network its highest ratings ever in the first quarter of 2009? First, perhaps, cash-strapped Americans once reliant on restaurants and take-out are beginning to cook for themselves—and find themselves needing some guidance. From the basic, flavorful meals of chirpy Rachael Ray to the male-focused grill skills of Bobby Flay, many home cooks can find someone on the Food Network that appeals. And when looking for written-down recipes, they turn to print and the Internet—two corners of the market in which the Food Network has already established a presence.
And as purely escapist entertainment, food shows are hard to beat—whether the ambitious dessert sculptures of Ace of Cakes, the gut-busting plates seen on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, the bacon-wrapped, deep-fried creations of Paula Deen, or the high-octane competition of Iron Chef. With an emphasis on food's visual power—and often focused on dishes, like oddball pancakes or adventurous sandwiches, that almost any diner could afford—the Food Network's shows are both entertaining in themselves, and remind viewers of the very accessible pleasures of food at every point of the price spectrum.