Why Vice Media Is Expanding Its Food-Themed Programming
Munchies, a food-centric channel from Vice Media, introduced 18 new digital series in its first year, including 'F—, That's Delicious' with rapper Action Bronson and 'Chef's Night Out.'
In a recent episode of digital series F—, That's Delicious, host Action Bronson tastes mozzarella and cooks a traditional Italian pizza with Mario Batali, who in turn listens to tracks off the chef-turned-rapper's new album.
The show, which streams on Vice Media's food-focused Munchies channel, was able to book Batali in part because he was a self-professed fan, calling it the greatest show he's seen in the last decade. It's with such high praise that Munchies, which Vice announced in 2014 in partnership with FremantleMedia, enters its second year.
"To get that kind of appreciation from someone that we look up to, and to have the established food world recognizing that we're doing something different, is exciting," says Lauren Cynamon, co-executive producer for Munchies.
Vice, the edgy media brand known for its alternative take on mainstream topics, entered a crowded vertical with its push into food. The TV market is saturated with stand-and-serve–style food shows and cooking competitions, and the topic has taken off on digital, too. There is a YouTube network, Tastemade, devoted to food, and YouTube channel Epic Meal Time has accumulated more than 6.7 million subscribers to its food challenge videos.
But much like other Vice verticals, Munchies is looking to tell stories about food in new ways. A sample of articles on the site includes a look at how pesticides are causing farmers to become depressed and Paul Qui's first-person account of how he went from being a drug dealer to winner of Top Chef. Munchies' video series, which total 18 in its first year, include Chef's Night Out, a hybrid between a city guide and profile series that follows chefs as they explore their own towns for the best eats, and The Dinner Bell, which follows host Julia Ziegler-Haynes as she cooks for her friends.
"We're looking for stories that go beyond just the table," says Munchies editor-in-chief Helen Hollyman. "A lot of what we do is global food coverage through a youth-driven lens. It's all about different and diverse voices from around the world."
In its second year, Munchies is expanding its coverage, adding a new pizza-themed show that will premiere this fall, a series that explores the relationship between technology and food in Japan, a taco show set in Mexico, and a series profiling women in the culinary arts that premieres April 22 with Munchies Presents Margot Henderson.
Munchies — which made its first documentary, Farang: The Story of Chef Andy Ricker, last year — is also premiering its second documentary, currently in postproduction, about Mission Chinese Food co-founder Danny Bowien. "Danny is a very interesting, unlikely character to succeed in this world," says Cynamon. "He's got a great story, and he was really open and intimate with us to let us tag along on the last year or so of his journey."
The channel, which is already in the United Kingdom and Canada, also has local-language editions in Germany, Mexico and the Netherlands. This year, it will expand into 10 new countries, including France, Portugal, Japan, China and Brazil. "Having local editors on the ground who are able to get local stories with global relevance is a really important aspect of what we do," says Hollyman. "Each country has a very different sensibility about food culture and what is currently happening with that country."
The company doesn't release traffic figures but says that Munchies' audience has grown by 280 percent in its first year. The YouTube channel, meanwhile, has more than 500,000 subscribers, placing it behind juggernaut Vice News, which has 1.3 million subscribers, and music-focused Noisey, which has 1.1 million subscribers, but ahead of tech-focused Motherboard and Vice Sports. Of the hundreds of videos posted to YouTube in its first year, 10 have made it past the 1 million-view mark. With more than 4 million views, the most popular video is How to Eat Sushi: You've Been Doing it Wrong. Fuel, a series about athletes' extreme diets, has three episodes with more than 1 million views and two episodes of Bronson's series also make the list.
Vice will see some competition in the food documentary space on April 26 when Netflix premieres docuseries Chef's Table from Jiro Dreams of Sushi filmmaker David Gelb. The six-episode series will go inside the kitchens of different international chefs.
Hollyman notes that food programming is a draw for audiences because eating out is becoming its own form of entertainment to many people. "Food is the new opera," she says. "One hundred years ago, people would get dressed up and go out to the opera. Today, young people are eating out more than ever. Whether it's a $5 banh mi or a $200 six-course tasting menu, they are highly engaged in the experience of dining."