Whither the Food Network?

A New York Times (registration required) business section article attempts to figure out what the heck’s going on over at the Food Network, where day ratings have dipped—“to an average of 544,000 people from 580,000 a year ago.”

More significant, its signature weekend block of instructional programs, known collectively as ‘In the Kitchen,’ has lost 15 percent of its audience in the last year, to 830,000 viewers on average. This had left the network owing refunds, known as ‘make goods,’ to advertisers.

Erica Gruen, a cable consultant who created Emeril Live, lays part of the blame on increased competition. (“There’s all sorts of instructional cooking video on the Web,” she notes.) However, the article quickly moves from businesslike analysis to some delicious bitching:

‘It’s not surprising that people move on,’ said Derek Baine, senior analyst at the media research firm SNL Kagan. ‘They pay almost nothing for the people as they are building their careers,’ he said. ‘That’s been their strategy all along.’

And this, from Mario Batali, who may or may not have offered the Food Network his new show with Gwyneth Paltrow and may or may not have been rejected by the network:

‘They don’t need me. They have decided they are mass market and they are going after the Wal-Mart crowd,’ which he said was ‘a smart business decision. So they don’t need someone who uses polysyllabic words from other languages.’

Molto meow. Not all of the Food Network stars have jumped ship, however: Rachael Ray has just signed a two-year deal for a new prime-time series called Rachael’s Vacation, which will launch in January. According to the press release, the show “follows Rachael as she takes time to sneak away and have a vacation. Viewers will follow as she discovers the distant cities, countries, foods, and lifestyles that continue to amaze and excite her.” When she isn’t popping Dramamine, Ray will also pump out 60 new episodes of 30 Minute Meals.

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