Raising a glass to toast a new online content deal, FoodNetwork.ca and Toronto-based production company Frogwater Media have more to celebrate than simply their partnership on a new digital series called Grape Notes.
Making its online debut today, Grape Notes is one of a number of digital initiatives the two companies are uncorking.
Specialty channel Food Network Canada is entering its second decade, having celebrated its tenth broadcast anniversary just last month. With new portable media and smartphone applications available and a recently redesigned website, Food Network is confident of continued growth and popularity as it head into the teen-aged years.
And Frogwater is in a celebratory mood, too, both with the official launch this week of Grape Notes, as well as other content developments that build on its successful track record of online and broadcast TV program production.
Grape Notes is a series of short online video segments, varying in length from one to three minutes. Each webisode offers helpful, handy and easy-to-digest tips on wines, wine terms, culinary accompaniments and more.
But each segment also represents a new approach to monetizing digital media content, one that builds on the best of old and new media strategies.
For example, visiting the company's production facilities in Toronto, one is immediately reminded to "check-in on Foursquare", one of several social media hooks the company is adept at utilizing. And, while reviewing the company's plans to grow the series going forward, Executive Producer and company founder Timothy Troke speaks of a cross-country road show and book tour.
It's about connecting with the audience in any way they want, online or in-person.
Tapping into a community of interest, developing a loyal following and then leveraging that fan base into a valuable asset that sponsors, advertisers and other content aggregators will value has been key to the company's broadband and mobile content development strategy, as seen in show like BSGcast, the award-winning Your Geek News, and the predecessor of Grape Notes, the popular Naked Wine Show.
Playing on their own dedicated home sites as well as content aggregation portals like Babelgum and Blip.tv, linked to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, the shows all now have a loyal and dedicated following online.
"We've spent two and half years developing our audience, building credibility and developing trust with the fans of Naked Wine," Troke describes. "Now, we're bringing that audience with us as we partner with the FoodNetwork.ca. That online community helps drive traffic enormously, with like a million visits per month, but it was tough going in the early days."
For some two years, Frogwater made huge commitments to the show, carefully developing its style and content, building even greater comfort and confidence in the on-camera host, responding to the audience and gaining its loyalty each step of the way.
Hosting both Grape Notes and its predecessor, The Naked Wine Show, is certified wine expert Susan Sterling. A graduate of the prestigious Wine & Spirit Education Trust in the U.K. (and holder of one of its highest designations), Sterling was nevertheless one of several people auditioned by Frogwater to host the show. Her passion for wine and her commitment to sharing was never more evident than when she reportedly blurted out, "I love wines so much, I'd even do this show naked..."
Putting aside her wardrobe or lack thereof, Sterling has been acknowledged not only for her comprehensive knowledge of wines, but also her ability to share that knowledge in an enjoyable and easy-to-understand way - she's the Tasty Award 'Best Critic' recipient for 2009.
With its core goal of "opening the experience" of wine to a much broader audience, Sterling says she's nevertheless committed to protecting the integrity of the editorial content. No wine or winemakers can buy their way onto the show.
"Every show is supposed to be fun and light," she describes. "I look for 'the one thing' that the audience can take away from each episode. Maybe it's a nice wine under ten bucks. Maybe it's not even about wines, but about wine tasting (if you've ever heard a wine described as having 'an earthy taste', well, the host will show you graphically what that might mean!).
The online, on-demand vignettes are short, snappy and very personal, and Sterling draws the audience in and connects with them with humour and insight.
And not by accident - with just a minute or so per episode, it is interesting to see how many successful 'long form' production ideas are applied to the show, from coming up with the original idea, to script development, dress rehearsals and camera blocking, and even choosing the colours and props used in set design.
It all speaks to Troke's careful approach to developing good content and then monetizing it in a suitably rewarding manner.
He recently shared some of his ideas with other producers and organizers at the Ontario Media Development Corporation, OMDC, where he was invited to speak about approaches to monetizing media content.
"There's no short term payoff," he says first off. "You have to invest for the long-term. Devote yourself, and the time and resources, to build an audience that will stay with you."
Specific analytic and tracking tools should be used by show producers and content owners to better understand the audience, and to identify its needs, wants and media habits.
Troke also sees the development of ancillary revenue streams as critical, saying they're not ancillary any more! Hence his plans for personal appearances by Sterling, the integration of cross-promotional opportunities (say, with a wine glass manufacturer or retail outlet) and that book tour.
Troke also speaks to the importance of R&D, and never resting on one's laurels.
Developing Naked Wine into Grape Notes, for example, represents and fine-tuning of the original concept, taking into account the new environment and new audience that Food Network brings to the table.
And the original investment in Naked Wine will still bring other benefits, according to Frogwater's plans. The show is "in hiatus" for now, but it will return with a new host (now being auditioned and developed) and a new focus in the New Year.
In the meantime, Troke is very excited about other Frogwater properties, and the benefits the company is now realizing thanks to the long and careful development cycle those properties have been put through.
The company's popular online show YourGeekNews (now in its third year, it looks at 'genre entertainment and geek movies' like X Men or Twilight) is building up to an over-the-air TV slot, and the popular holiday show Magic Man (which aired on CBC last year) is being developed for a second and even a third prime time slot.
Having just delivered the first five segments of some 250 Grape Notes episodes to be showcased on Food Network Canada's website www.foodnetwork.ca, Frogwater Media is already looking to other lifestyle type programs, as well.
First, however, a toast is planned!
Grape Notes is produced by Troke, Matt Campagna and Anastasia Tubanos of Frogwater Media.
For more Mediacaster and Broadcaster Magazine coverage related to this topic, please see:
Food Network Turns "10"
Special Holiday Magic Appears Before Independent Cameras