Food Rules

Once the province of how-to cooking shows, food media has extended its reach—but has it become too big?

Viewers also find food personalities, many of whom are a mix of raw aggression and finesse, extraordinarily compelling. On Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay may bully a restaurant owner into fixing a failing business, but he’s also a nurturer who steps behind the stove and whips up pretty, delicate dishes. (Out of all food shows, by the way, Hell’s Kitchen has the highest ad revenue, averaging $125,000 for a 30-second spot.)

And celebrity chefs are now purveyors of a nightlife that combines food, movie stars, and, increasingly, the world of fashion. Just last week, Marcus Samuelsson, who has competed in Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, hosted a party at his New York restaurant, Red Rooster, for a line of clothes from Edun, started by Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson.

The changing makeup of the audience has meant dollars from advertisers outside the mainstay of food and other consumer packaged goods. There is a “much more diverse portfolio of advertising categories, including a lot of support from automotive as well as retail and even expanding into telecom and financial,” says Mike Rosen, president of media buying agency Starcom.

A glance at the sponsors of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters illustrates that shift clearly: The show receives support from home-appliance brand KitchenAid but also luxury-car manufacturer Lexus. During its third season, which aired in 2011, upscale credit card Chase Sapphire signed on for the first time.

Food magazines have mostly fared as well as TV. The glaring exception is Gourmet, a victim of Condé Nast’s cost-cutting measures; its demise speaks to the democratization of food media and the sense that Gourmet was snobby and old.

Food Network Magazine, launched in 2009, has displayed one of the most impressive circulation trajectories regardless of genre: For the first half of 2011, according to the latest report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, average total circulation was 1.5 million, with more than 338,000 single copies sold, a 5 percent increase over the prior reporting period. For the sixth time since its launch, it’s raising its rate base, to 1.4 million, effective with the January/February 2012 issue, according to the company.

The brightly colored magazine—geared toward moms—is big on the network’s celebrity chefs, easy dinner recipes, “fun” ideas like PB-and-J cake, and 50 recipes to make with bacon. “The magazine’s been incredibly successful at bringing a sense of accessibility and fun to the epicurean magazine world, which not long ago was perceived as extremely ‘precious,’ ” says Vicki Wellington, publisher and chief revenue officer at Food Network Magazine.

The publications themselves tend to fall into two mass-market categories: those that stick to recipes, like Everyday Food, Cooking Light, and Taste of Home; and those that add liberal doses of lifestyle content, which, in addition to Food Network Magazine, includes the more sophisticated Saveur and Food & Wine. Bon Appétit is headed in this latter direction under new editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport, who hopes to add men and younger food-blog readers to the magazine’s mostly female, middle-age readership. He’s also throwing in some glamour: Gwyneth Paltrow is on the cover of the June 2011 issue.

Targeting men, whether for magazines or TV, was inevitable, given the data. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last year 41 percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 68 percent of women. In 2003, the same study found 20 percent of men reported doing housework as opposed to 55 percent of women. Apps popular with men, such as How to Cook Everything and Weber’s On the Grill, were the third and fourth (respectively) most downloaded lifestyle apps for iPads and iPhones last year, according to Apple.

Advertisers spent more than $315 million in food-related print publications during the first half of 2011, according to an Adweek tally of data for 10 titles from Publishers Information Bureau.* While that represented a roughly 1.4 percent overall decrease from the same magazines for the same period in 2010, several large-circulation magazines showed increases: Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Saveur, and Food Network Magazine all drew more revenue.

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