Will Foodies Flock To YouTube?

    Three former Demand Media executives joined forces to launch an online multichannel network for foodies. Is this the future of food media?

    The Food Network of the future could be in a lofted studio above a warehouse in Santa Monica, California. Six months ago it was a dingy apartment, but now it's the fancy new home of Tastemade, a food-oriented, multichannel YouTube network that has brought together 100 partner channels worldwide in the last six months, including Sorted in the U.K., Herve in France, and Nicko's Kitchen out of Australia.

    Taken together, the collected channels boast more than 29 million views — what remains to be seen is whether the new network can leverage those views to build an empire of the Food Network's scale on YouTube.

    Tastemade, where viewers can find everything from a milkshake instructional videos to an Anthony Bourdain-inspired travel documentaries, is the brainchild of Larry Fitzgibbon, Joe Perez, and Steven Kydd, three former executives at Santa Monica-based Demand Media, home of Cracked.com and eHow.com. After leaving Demand last January, the trio set their sights on YouTube.

    When the Food Network launched 20 years ago, "they built the category-defining brand for food programming on cable — but they are very focused on cable," Kydd said in an interview on Monday. YouTube, as the founders of Tastemade see it, is the future of television — it's third wave, if you will.

    On Monday, the company, whose eponymous flagship channel was among the group of YouTube-funded original channels, announced a round of series A funding from Redpoint Ventures of $5.3 million.

    Funding from Redpoint prompted comparisons between Tastemade and another of Redpoint's investments, Machinima, a multichannel YouTube network with a video game focus.

    Like Machinima, Tastemade offers prospective partners the resources of a large parent company — helping partners find and make deals with advertisers, analyze their viewing data, and improve their branding in exchange for a cut of the revenue those channels earn.

    Fitzgibbon doesn't mind the comparisons to Machinima. "Machinima is successful business built on the YouTube platform," he said. Tastemade is similar "in the sense that we have an original funded channel as well as we're building a network."

    While certainly successful, Machinima has also been criticized by partners for contracts they call unfair.

    That complaint is just one of many detractors have levied against the multichannel network and others like it. Many of the complaints against MCNs were catalogued in a manifesto posted in December (and since removed) by cofounders of another multichannel network, Big Frame.

    "Recently, we have become concerned that the focus on the views horse race by some YouTube networks is damaging the entire YouTube ecosystem," Steve Raymond and Sarah Penna wrote in a blog post that cited bad contracts, unhappy creators, unsustainable growth rates, and high-profile talent calling networks "greedy and useless" as some warning signs existing networks and new ones, like Tastemade, will be forced to reckon with.

    Still, the founders of Tastemade are confident enough in the multichannel business model that they have invested heavily in the Santa Monica space. There Tastemade offers its partners — the ones who can make it to Southern California, at least — a professional studio and equipment on which to film their videos.

    "Today on YouTube you've got people shooting with a camera pointed at themselves with no help, no food stylist, no editors, no lighting — that's one extreme," Perez said. "The other extreme is the Fox lot, or some lot in Burbank, where literally the cost of a show might be anywhere from $100,000 to a $1,000,000 per episode." Tastemade's founders see their new digs as the happy medium.

    The Santa Monica soundstage, which was formerly home to MTV Productions (the office is in a space above the soundstage), has several kitchen sets that can be dismantled and reassembled to different effects. For example, the "Brooklyn" kitchen features exposed brick and a chalkboard drawing delineating the different cuts of pork, a classic white tile and marble countertop kitchen, and a bar with walls of fashioned from reclaimed wood and floors made of thrift store belts.

    For all the comparisons between the YouTube network and its cable predecessor, Tastemade's founders insist they aren't coming for the Food Network's crown — yet.

    "We're just starting out," Fitzgibbon says. "We think that there is still a large opportunity to grow the audience, which will continue to do. We're pretty much heads down focused on executing that."