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Gusto adds spice to foodie market

Gusto-One-World-Kitchen “There is no owners manual that comes with a broadcast license,” says Knight Enterprises’ Chris Knight about his fledgling food channel Gusto.

Still less than 18 months old, it has cornered the classic food TV market and having moved into originals, was at MIPTV with two series, A is for Apple (below) and One World Kitchen (above).

A producer of many years, the Gusto founder says that the move into channels was borne out of changes in the local media landscape. “There was a perfect storm,” he says. “The economy was grinding to a halt and there was a frenzy of media consolidation – I was running out of people to make shows for. Broadcasters wanted more and more rights and were paying less and less cash.”

GUSTO_Chris_verticalKnight (right) decided, against a raft of advice, to move into the specialty channels arena. That meant taking on Food Network, which having shifted into a more lifestyle and entertainment space and left room for a pure foodie TV play.

“There was so much content for us to acquire, as there were so few outlets for quality food programming,” Knight says. At launch, Gusto went out with acquired series including chef-based offerings from Nigel Slater, Rachel Allen and Rick Stein. About 85% of Gusto’s schedule is currently first-run in Canada.

“The competition has wholesale abandoned the type of programming that made them popular in the first place; they have migrated to ‘food entertainment’, and they are wonderfully successful at it. We decided to go with what made food TV popular in the first place. When people go home there are multiple choices for drama, comedy or sport, but in Canada we are the only channel for food.”

The pair of original programmes launching internationally in Cannes fit the classic mould, albeit with the modern twists of being shot in 4K and in unconventional cooking spaces. In One World Kitchen, five cooks explore five global cuisines: Argentine, Japanese, Indiana, Italian and Thai. There will be a 130-part package of webisodes for buyers as well as 150 rights-cleared recipes. Knight says the additional content is important because “while broadcasters talk about digital and Netflix, when you look at what’s for sale, it is often not more than the linear rights.”

GustoTV-ApplesThe other show, A is for Apple, is a “foodie homage to Sesame Street”. The lighthearted half-hour show takes a letter of the alphabet letter and explores ingredients that start with it. Five more originals will come before spring 2016, and with the benefits of being a Canadian channel operator, copros are in the offing.

In terms of domestic distribution, Gusto is on Bell, Eastlink, Telus and MTS’ pay TV platforms. Its case for getting carriage on Shaw, one of the big players that does not carry it, is not helped by the fact the media giant co-owns Food Network (with Scripps).

Undeterred by the distribution challenge, Knight says he will launch two more lifestyle channels in Canada in the next three years. Any international roll outs will wait until there is a larger catalogue of original programming.

Meanwhile, with its 18-49 demo and business model that captures linear and digital ad dollars as well as exploiting off-screen publishing and events rights, suitors are already understood to have approached Gusto.

“There is an inevitability that a sales event will be triggered,” Knight says. “My personal preference is for an IPO, which would allow us to really push into the international market. But for the time being I’m having too much fun figuring out the model and how it all works.”