Food Network Ratings Drop 10% in Key Demo

Rachel Ray - South Beach Wine And Food Festival - 2009
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Experts cite competition from edgier cooking shows and need for new hits.

NEW YORK - After years of growth, Scripps Networks’ Food Network and HGTV saw their first major ratings falloff late last year, the New York Post reported Thursday.

In the final quarter of 2010, Food Network posted a 10.3 percent decline among viewers ages 25 to 54, who are considered a key demo for advertisers, the paper said, citing Nielsen data. That came after a 4.5 percent drop in the third quarter and a 3.3 percent fall in the second quarter.

HGTV experienced a 6.1 percent decline in fourth-quarter ratings, according to the Post.

In addition, primetime ratings for women, the focus for both networks, fell in December in a sign that core fans may look elsewhere for entertainment, the Post said.

It cited Gary Lico, president of research group CableU as saying that food-themed programming has become particularly competitive. "People have a different appetite for food programs,” he said. “We know edgier cooking shows such as 'Kitchen Nightmares' are doing well." Plus, other cable networks, such as Discovery Communications' TLC and NBC Universal's Bravo have had their own success with food-themed shows a la Cake Boss and Top Chef.

Meanwhile, at HGTV, a third of its schedule consists of episodes of House Hunters, said Lico - a sign that new hits are needed there as well.

But Scripps remains confident. "Food Network is about 20 percent ahead of where it was two years ago," a spokeswoman told the Post. "The growth was so strong in 2009 that we were running up against some strong comparisons."
The company also highlighted that total viewership on both networks is "pretty much even" with the prior year and that the networks are off to a good start in 2011.