It’s already been a rough year for digital media, with BuzzFeed, AOL, Yahoo and HuffPost collectively laying off more than 1,000 employees. But beyond the discouraging short-term ramifications, the alarming purge has prompted widespread speculation over the viability of digital media as profitable endeavor.
Time will tell if it’s a perfect recipe, but it seems the chefs over at Bon Appétit magazine have cooked up their own ambitious response. After the magazine’s test kitchen chefs like Brad Leone and Claire Saffitz rose to unlikely fame on YouTube, Bon Appétit is now hedging its bets in turning its 3.1 million YouTube subscribers into an empire by creating a streaming channel, which launched last Thursday.
It’s easy to see why people love the main players. Pastry specialist Saffitz’s tantalizing series Gourmet Makes explores recipes for childhood-favorite snacks like Oreos and Twizzlers. And we don’t just see the finished product—we see the entire process with failures and disappointments carefully laid out alongside the successes. With test kitchen manager Leone, it’s his unrelenting, if bumbling, enthusiasm for every food he encounters in his series It’s Alive that keeps viewers coming back for more. From the moment he spilled his homemade kombucha all over the floor in his first episode, he had our hearts.
Bon Appétit treats us to the casual and unproduced sides of the culinary team, as if we were on the opposite side of the kitchen counter watching our friends make dinner. The distinct personalities on the test kitchen team have even spawned Buzzfeed quizzes and astrological memes (personally, I’m a Carla Lalli Music sun, Saffitz moon and Molly Baz rising), garnering the kind of fandom usually reserved for screen celebrities.
Condé Nast executives have taken notice of the growing fandom. Adam Winer, a senior vice president at Condé Nast Entertainment, told Quartz that this low-key, personal vibe of Bon Appétit’s videos occupies an empty space in an otherwise highly produced food programming landscape. He also noted that online viewing habits are trending toward longer form content, making a streaming channel the logical next step for their expansion.
As such, the Bon Appétit service will feature all of the company’s YouTube videos alongside three new exclusive shows. Leone’s series It’s Alive: Going Places will premiere with the channel, while Bon Appétit’s Baking School will launch in mid-March and Making Perfect will launch in mid-April. The streamer, which will be available on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Android TV, will also feature the entire back catalog of Jamie Oliver’s BBC series The Naked Chef.
The aim isn’t to replace Bon Appétit’s YouTube or written presence. Rather, the company is viewing video as an additive to its mission instead of a shift in a different direction, according to an Adweek interview with Eric Gillin, Condé Nast Entertainment’s chief business officer of the lifestyle division.
This isn’t the first time that a Condé Nast publication has been given the streaming treatment. Last July, the company launched a channel for Wired, releasing exclusive content on the platform for the first time in October. For those of us who are technologically fatigued from a bombardment of digital content, it may seem superfluous—if not downright financially dangerous—to launch all sorts of new streaming channels. But according to a report from the Video Advertising Bureau there are 14.1 million over-the-top (OTT)-only households in the United States, meaning households ruled by OTT media sources that bypass cable or broadcast providers. While this only accounts for 11 percent of U.S. TV households, this number is triple what it was five years ago, and seems to be a burgeoning source of revenue.
According to Gillin, “This is what it looks like when an investment pays off.” Of course, people said the same of Buzzfeed, so it may only be a matter of time before the cookie crumbles.