Q&A: Discovery exec discusses Food Network Kitchen’s interactive elements

Tyler Whitworth, senior vice president and general manger of direct to consumer at Discovery, Inc., said the idea for the service first popped up about a year ago. (Food Network)

In the rush of new subscription video services hitting the market, Food Network Kitchen stands out for its idea that viewers should be on their feet and doing rather than sinking into the couch.

The service, which launched this week, charges $6.99/month or $59.99/year (there’s a limited time discounted price of $4/month or $47.99/year) for access to dozens of live cooking classes, more than 800 on-demand cooking classes, 3,000 instructional videos, a library of Food Network series and recipes. The service works on mobile devices, along with Amazon Alexa and Echo Show, Fire Tablets, Fire TV streaming media devices and Fire TV Edition smart TVs. It’s there that the service takes advantage of hands-free controls that lets users cook along without making a bigger mess than necessary.

Tyler Whitworth, senior vice president and general manger of direct to consumer at Discovery, Inc., said the idea for the service first popped up about a year ago. Around the holidays, he said, about 80 million visitors came to the Food Network website looking for help with getting ready for Thanksgiving.

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Whitworth said that Discovery began working with Amazon to develop a service that would help users and boost their confidence in the kitchen. Both Whitworth and Peter Faricy, who leads the direct-to-consumer business for Discovery, spent time at Amazon previously. Independent of that, they decided that Amazon’s devices best fit the profile for the hardware necessary to make the service work best.

As Food Network Kitchen gets cooking – with plans for more device and platform support along with extended features in 2020 – we spoke with Whitworth about how the interactive elements work and the complicated process of building such a feature-rich streaming service.

The following has been editing for clarity and length.

FierceVideo: Can you elaborate on how the interactive elements of the service will work, both from a consumer standpoint and for the hosts doing the live shows?

Tyler Whitworth: Building the opportunity for customers to take live classes, interact with the chefs and actually have them answer some of their key questions about cooking and the dishes their making, we thought it would be really fun for a lot of people.

In our live classes, you or I or anyone else can submit a live question, and that question will be answered either by the chef or culinary staff of experts in the food field. Today there was a class delivered by Michael Simon on meatballs, and it was great. People asked him all sorts of very particular questions and general things about developing cooking skills for beginners, or what kind of wine should I pair with the recipe. Michael answered probably eight to 10 questions throughout the class.

That’s just where we’re starting. We’re excited about a lot of different opportunities to do interactivity both with the chefs and over time probably with the people who are taking the class with you. We have a whole host of features we’re interested in building and testing.

FierceVideo: Is that interactivity limited to Amazon devices?

Whitworth: It’s available on all the platforms. You can do it on our mobile apps. Initially on the Echo Show, you can take all the live and on-demand classes, but the interactive Q&A feature will come out a little bit later. But the interactive is available on all the platforms.

We’re super excited about what we can do with Amazon, but really we want this experience available on any device that people use.

FierceVideo: Food Network Kitchen offers many more features and services than a typical subscription streaming service. How complicated was it to build on both the front and back ends?

Whitworth: We definitely took a different angle on this as we thought about what customers need and what problems we can help them solve. As opposed to a normal streaming service that might just offer entertainment – and there are wonderful streaming services out there – we wanted something that would be practical for everyday needs.

While we’re also offering cooking shows you can watch (and our subscribers watch commercial-free), it’s really focused on the cooking angle and not just streaming.

One of the lessons, one of the things we took from Amazon is that Amazon is really well known for starting with the customer and working backwards. Figuring out what the customer needs, and what are experiences that they would really like. We took a similar approach in thinking about our busy customers, and what are their pain points. We used a pretty iterative process throughout. So, we had the concept, we’d work on designing it out and then we’d get in front of representative customers and have them give use feedback.

On the backend, as Discovery has started to build out its direct-to-consumer business more, one of the important things we’ve done is build a new, end-to-end, proprietary technology platform that allows us to serve up all our direct-to-consumer products. A lot of media companies historically when they build DTC products, they use third-party licensed software. We didn’t feel that was the right approach for Food Network Kitchen and the other direct-to-consumer products because we wanted something that we could iterate and build on fast.

We feel that launching this product today is just the first step and we really feel that with our customers feedback and watching what works well for them and what doesn’t, we’ll iterate. We have a roadmap for the next one to two years that we’re excited about.

FierceVideo: So, this is the platform that Discovery will be using for future streaming services?

Whitworth: Yeah, the Eurosport Player runs off this platform. As we build other new offerings, we’ll do it off this platform. When Peter [Faricy] came over, he brought over Avi Saxena, who was a senior technology leader at Amazon, to lead this core platform function and they’ve been working diligently on Food Network Kitchen but also a number of things across Discovery.

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