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The Food Network and "Getting Younger"
Monday, November 06, 2006 | posted by Mike

Food NetworkAt the risk of mixing food and sports metaphors, I wanted to mention something about the concept of “getting younger” and how it applies to the Food Network in particular and food TV in general. We’ve talked a bit about it before, including what I thought was a slightly dubious way of enticing a younger audience.

In sports, from time to time, you will hear about a team trying to “get younger.” What this means is that they want to make some moves with personnel (e.g. trades, free agents, not re-signing a player) in an attempt to reduce the average age of the team. It’s no secret that, as you age, you’re just not able to do as much physically as you can in your prime. Of course, you don’t want to go too far and lose your “veteran savvy.” But, all things being equal, it’s better to be good and young than good and old.

This is all fine and dandy when it comes to sports, but we keep eating throughout our life, so how does this apply to food TV?

Well, first, networks and shows target younger viewers because getting them interested early in life will result in loyalty for years and years to come. We have a bit of that when it comes to food TV. Look at Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie, which incorporates a dynamic, fast-paced style that would appeal to a younger audience than you usually see on PBS. My guess is that they’re hoping that, as their audience ages, mellows out and starts spending more time reading, they’ll be (BUSINESS BUZZWORD ALERT!) converted into magazine subscribers.

This is also true of marketing, hence the Ronald McDonald advertising campaigns that appeal to young children, ensuring a lifetime of Quarter Pounders with Cheese. And this is not just the case with businesses. Many arts and cultural institutions (museums, performing arts, etc.) have school and child outreach programs which aim to get kids involved because (a) that also brings in the parents and (b) it instills an appreciation for the arts that will result in patronage later.

But younger doesn’t just mean “kids,” and that brings us to the REAL reason to target a more youthful audience: Advertising Revenue

Depending on what kinds of products you are looking to sell, the prime demographic usually falls somewhere between 18 and 35. These are the years of disposable income, with men and women out in the workforce but often without the costs associated with home ownership and raising a child. They have money to spend and they spend quite a lot.

Like I said, the prime age varies from product to product. Ever come out of a movie and think to yourself, “What a dumb movie…it’s like it was maid for brain-dead 14-year-olds?” Guess what…IT WAS! Who do you think is buying all of the tickets?

I don’t know what the sweet spot is for the Food Network. My guess is that it’s probably somewhere in that range, and that it’s probably a little more “male” than you would expect it to be considering it’s a “lifestyle” network and the traditional role of women as preparing meals. A particular show’s strong performance in that sweet spot is the holy grail of audiences because it allows them to charge higher rates to advertisers.

So, how is the Food Network doing with the younger crowd? Well, I don’t subscribe to Advertising Age, but this article from the Penn State Daily Collegian says that the University’s cable network may be adding the Food Network to its roster of channels as a result of the fact that they scored well in a survey of students. I know that I started really watching FN after my time in college, so I have to think it’s a good time to start recruiting new viewers.

And, hey, if you rate well a bunch of dining hall kids whose culinary abilities are limited to microwave popcorn and mixed cocktails, I’d say you’re doing something right.

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