Food is fast becoming the universal language of television.
Food Network parent company Scripps Networks Interactive is in the midst of a big push to beef up its international channel portfolio. The effort began five years ago as a mission to export the culinary adventures of homegrown stars like Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, Giada De Laurentiis, Rachael Ray and Alton Brown to viewers globally.
But as the channels have taken root in the U.K., Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, execs have been pleasantly surprised at the wealth of local talent they’ve discovered, and how well the shows travel from territory to territory. The early success has convinced Food Network to redouble its investment in local original programming.
“Just as we have done in the U.S., we’re finding talents who are just at the beginning of their careers,” says Jim Samples, president of international for Scripps Networks.
Food Network has a hit in Africa with “Siba’s Table,” a show hosted by South African chef Siba Mtongana, now a media darling in her home country. Her English-language show happens to be the top-rated program on Food Network’s outlet in Poland, Polsat Food, which features its own budding star in Ewa Wachowicz. Wachowicz, discovered by local producers, has connected with viewers through her flair with local specialties.
Food Network’s fledgling Russian outlet, which launched in October, has actress Yulia Vysotskaya lined up to host “My Russian Kitchen” next year. The net’s Latin American service has a hot property with Brazilian YouTube personality Danielle Noce hosting a Portuguese-language show patterned after her digital channel, I Could Kill for Dessert.
In the U.K., Andy Bates, who specializes in covering street food, has become a ubiquitous on-air presence, as has “Spice Prince” Reza Mahammad. Both are among the personalities featured in Food Network’s largest international series commission to date, “The Big Eat,” a 40-episode order of a how-to cooking series.
There are limits to the mobility of some shows due to language barriers — and there are other regionally specific considerations, such as making sure pork isn’t prominent on the menu in Middle Eastern countries. But talent development knows no boundaries.
The growth of Food’s international roster has opened the eyes of Scripps’ execs on the local original series potential for their other key brands -— Travel Channel and HGTV.
There’s no doubt Scripps Networks was incredibly late to the party in expanding overseas compared with other cable congloms. But the fact that it has found traction in crowded markets like the U.K. is a testament to the universality of lifestyle programming.
“Everybody eats,” says Jon Sichel, Scripps managing director for the U.K., Europe, Middle East and Africa region. “That’s recognition that while we can thrive on our library (of U.S. programs), we can do so much more with the additional benefit of local perspectives.”