Where Is Food Network's Web Strategy?

Ratings are dipping and some home-grown shows are out at Scripps’ Food Network, the topic of a lengthy profile in today’s New York Times. What isn’t addressed: Food Network’s Web strategy, or lack thereof.

The network’s Web site is large but basically stagnant: Last month it drew 12.1 million uniques, says comScore, just 4% more than a year ago. Its design and features are equally stale: The site is mostly an advertisement for its TV shows, an online store, and a lame database of recipes. And there’s an appalling shortage of video, which should be a slam dunk for the site.

Scripps isn’t asleep — this summer it spent some $25 million for Recipezaar, a recipe sharing site that garnered 3.5 million unique visitors last month. So, an easy first move: Re-brand Recipezaar, jazz it up as a place to host foodie blogs, and make it a centrepiece in Food Network’s Web strategy.

Next step: Set up the best food-video sharing site, where the network’s legions of fans could upload their best Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, or Iron Chef impersonations. Homemade cooking shows hardly require a big budget — almost any digital camera will shoot adequate video — and food is a cheap prop. The best uploads could even get some time on the cable network, giving fans more incentive to participate. There won’t be any TV cannibalization — viewers will still watch the cable net to stay in touch with their favourite celebrity chefs. Any because there shouldn’t be any lewd or objectionable content, it should be easy to advertise alongside the content.

This stuff isn’t complicated, and by stalling, Scripps (SSP) has missed yet another holiday cooking season. Until Google’s YouTube upgrades its video quality, it could have a tough time competing here. IAC’s Vimeo has some neat stuff, like this guy’s veggie and sausage soup recipe, but it’s not very organised. So Food Network still has a chance to become the go-to destination for user-generated cooking video. But if it doesn’t act fast, someone else will. Condé/Epicurious: we’re looking at you.

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