In the food media world, Thanksgiving time is often referred to as the Super Bowl. This is the big game -- the time when website traffic increases, magazine sales are a bit higher and food advertisers are shelling out more money. It's a competitive market, with media properties all hungry for traffic and viewers. But there's one company that dominates everyone else: the Food Network.
Calling the Food Network a television channel is like calling Kim Kardashian a reality TV star -- the brand goes much deeper than that. The company also has one of the most successful food magazines on the market and a website that boasts traffic that some competitors would kill for. That is just in a normal month. When November rolls around, Food Network has a gigantic platform for the most important season of the year for a food media company.
FoodNetwork.com sees a 150% increase in page views for the month of November -- last year was 350 million views -- according to Bob Madden, the General Manager and Senior Vice President for the Digital Food Category at Scripps Networks Interactive. Unique views across Food.com, FoodNetwork.com and CookingChannelTV.com hover around 20 million per month. For November, that spikes to 30 million. On Food Network's social media platforms, the week of Thanksgiving brought the most Facebook visits and the most Facebook wall posts in a single day last year. "It is by far our biggest event of the year, digitally," says Madden.
But why are so many people visiting a website that frankly, isn't even close to the best-looking food site on the internet, and that feels a bit more 2002 rather than 2012? One word: fans. Alton Brown's roast turkey recipe received a staggering 15 million views in November 2011, and is on track to be the number one Thanksgiving recipe on the site this year.
Starting last year, Food Network attempted to integrate its digital and television space with a program called Thanksgiving Live, the only live program that Food Network has ever aired. Some of the channel's biggest stars, including Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Rachael Ray, answer questions asked via Twitter and Facebook, and once the television component ends, the party continues online. Thanksgiving Live aired Sunday, November 18 this year and generated over 24,000 tweets. This program is part of the Food Network's goal to listen to and incorporate the voice of the fan even more.
It seems that these fans are a dedicated bunch, and somewhat immune to the anti-Food Network backlash, or any scandals involving the on-air talent. While much of the food media world is snarking it up over Pete Wells' review of Guy Fieri's Times Square restaurant, you can easily find a link to his most popular recipes on the Food Network homepage (mojito chicken is number one, if you're curious). And, while a big wad of vitriol was thrown at Paula Deen about her partnership with Novo Nordisk, her green bean casserole recipe is still going strong. Last year, it received 35 million views. Both stars were absent from Thanksgiving Live, however.
Each Food Network company has competition -- AllRecipes.com vs. FoodNetwork.com or Food Network Magazine vs. Bon Appetit, for example -- but when you add up the website plus the TV channel plus the magazine, Food Network stands alone at the top. "I don't think anyone even comes within shouting distance," says Madden.