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Food Network's Ratings Decline

From The New York Post: After gorging on cooking and redecorating shows on 24-hour cable, it appears viewers have had their fill.

Food Network and sister network HGTV -- Scripps Networks' two biggest money-makers -- are seeing troubling signs that their core female fans are starting to look elsewhere for entertaining fare. After years of growth, both networks experienced their first major ratings falloff at the end of last year.

In the fourth quarter, Food Network, which helped launch the careers of celebrity chefs Sandra Lee and Rachael Ray, posted a 10.3 percent drop among viewers ages 25 to 54, considered a key category for advertisers.

What's more, the network's quarterly declines worsened throughout the year, falling 3.3 percent in the second quarter and 4.5 percent in the third quarter, according to Nielsen figures.

HGTV, whose hits include "House Hunters" and "For Rent," fared about as well as the rest of the housing market, with a 6.1 percent drop in fourth-quarter ratings.

Most troubling, primetime ratings for women -- the primary audience for both channels -- were down in December. Food Network ratings among women ages 18 to 49, and 25 to 54, fell 9 percent last month.

Part of the challenge for the food-focused channel is shifting tastes, with viewers going for edgier culinary "reality" competition shows.

"They have a tough job," said Gary Lico, president of CableU, a cable TV research group. "People have a different appetite for food programs. We know edgier cooking shows such as 'Kitchen Nightmares' are doing well."

At the same time, non-food channels, including Discovery's TLC and NBC Universal's Bravo, have jumped on the chow wagon. TLC airs "Cake Boss" and has just launched a spin-off, "The Next Great Baker," while Bravo has a slew of food and real-estate shows, including "Top Chef."

It doesn't help that both networks are starved for new shows, analysts say. Food Network's primetime schedule relies heavily on four shows: "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," "Chopped," "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" and "Unwrapped."

A full third of HGTV's schedule consists of episodes of "House Hunters," according to CableU's Lico, adding that the show struggled on Wednesdays and Fridays in December.

Earlier this month, Scripps said it had to compensate advertisers for the fourth-quarter weakness at both channels, although it believes it was a temporary blip.

"Food Network is about 20 percent ahead of where it was two years ago," a Scripps spokeswoman told The Post. "The growth was so strong in 2009 that we were running up against some strong comparisons."

Scripps added that total viewership on both networks is "pretty much even" with the prior year, and that HGTV has gotten off to a good start this year with the new series "Cash and Cari," while Food Network's "Worst Cooks" is also generating solid ratings.


Read more: http://www.nypost.com/
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