There will be life after failure for contestants on the ninth season of Top Chef, albeit on the Web. Contestants voted off the Bravo cooking competition, which premieres Nov. 2, will move on to a second, alternate round of cook-offs in a concurrent series online called Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen.
The winner of the contest for the losers consigned to the Web will then have the chance to return to the TV version of the series and compete for the ultimate title in the final round. “It allows us to tell the content story of Top Chef across many platforms—TV, Web, mobile, social media—and it allows us to have fans participate,” says Lisa Hsia, who oversees Bravo’s digital media products.
Second-screen offerings attached to TV series often take the form of a behind-the-scenes video or backstage interview with show talent. (Or in Top Chef’s case, recipe clips.) Bravo’s new parallel Top Chef Web series, however, will have the same look and feel of the television program—they use the same set and production teams, and they’re hosted by Tom Colicchio.
As part of this new multimedia package, which is being backed by longtime Top Chef sponsor Toyota, the initiative will also feature a “loyalty rewards” program in which viewers can earn prizes for doing things like participating in online polls and watching videos. It’s all aimed at bringing the show’s brand to as many corners of the Web as possible, in an effort to present a much more engaged audience to advertisers (last season, Top Chef averaged around 2.3 million viewers per episode—up 4 percent from the previous season). Hsia says she hopes to add similar features to other Bravo programs—like the Real Housewives franchise in 2012. “We were looking at ways to improve the value proposition to advertisers,” says Hsia. “There’s great value to any TV show. But I always felt digital content needed to be more integrally embedded in the on-air storytelling.”
There are risks to this play, of course. Bravo is asking its viewers to consume one of its most popular shows in a way they never have before.
“It’s not going to appeal to as many fans because many people like to just lean back,” says Barry Lowenthal, president of media agency The Media Kitchen. “But there’s a sub-segment that does like to participate.” Hsia says she isn’t worried. “If you want to lean back you can,” says Hsia. “But if you want to get the full breadth of the show, you’ll watch it on TV and online.”