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Food Network Boss, Warner Bros. Discovery Networks CMO Talk Cross Promoting Movies and Max, Holiday Hits and State of Cable TV

Warner Bros. Discovery’s fourth-quarter success largely depends on strong performance at Food Network, as the cable channel draws its highest number of eyeballs — and ad dollars — when the holidays roll around. But in 2023, the network had additional tasks to check off for the company, including driving viewers to Max and pushing them to the theater for titles including Warner Bros. Timothée Chalamet-led “Wonka.”

With a “huge” turnout of 34 million viewers across 52.5 hours of holiday-themed programming, Food Network chief Betsy Ayala told Variety‘s “Strictly Business” podcast she’s proud of the results, which were driven by seasonal favorites including “Holiday Baking Championship,” “Holiday Wars” and “Beat Bobby Flay: Holiday Throwdown,” as well as new competition series “Elf on the Shelf: Sweet Showdown.”

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U.S. Networks chief marketing officer Karen Bronzo touted the wider implications of Food Network’s success within WBD. “The holiday really punctuates this for me — last year was the year that we really gelled as an entire company,” Bronzo said during her and Ayala’s sitdown with Variety TV business writer Jennifer Maas on Wednesday’s episode of “Strictly Business.” “And we always talk about the power of the portfolio and the power of all of WBD working together to promote our priorities as a company, and I think last year we saw it all come together.”

In Q4, Bronzo says “the whole company, all of the other networks, really got behind supporting Food Network to help make it the success that Betsy described.” “Whether it was with other integrated content, or additional promotional power with running promos on the networks, we did a lot of things to really just try to boost the eyeballs to Food Network during that time, which paid off really, really well for us. But in addition to that, we also were able to use the our platforms to support the theatrical releases and the Max releases that were happening throughout the year.”

Food Network kicked off the new year with the return of “Worst Cooks in America” and its steady ratings on Jan. 7, and will next see Guy Fieri’s hit series “Tournament of Champions” debut its 5th season on Feb. 18. And things are heating up behind the scenes, with shows set to shoot over the first quarter including “Beat Bobby Flay,” “Beat Bobby Flay: Holiday Showdown,” “Bobby’s Triple Threat,” “BBQ Brawl,” “Chopped,” “Great Food Truck Race,” “Supermarket Stakeout,” “Summer Baking Championship,” “Holiday Baking Championship,” “Outchef’d,” “Pioneer Woman” and “Delicious Miss Brown.”

(Pictured: Betsy Ayala, Karen Bronzo)

The cross-promotion moves made during the 2023 holidays set the bar high for continuing that marketing for the studios and Max via Food Network throughout 2024, following splashy seasonal tie-ins for WBD films “Wonka” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” among other titles. And Food Network is ready to keep taking on that added responsibility.

“Food is lucky, in the sense that we are the donor,” Ayala said. “We are so perfect for that kind of integration, regardless of if it’s ‘Wonka’ and ‘Holiday Baking Championship,’ or we even promoted ‘Elf,’ the marathon that was running on TBS. We can do that so easily. And it also gives us an opportunity to be creative, it gives us something to get behind in our challenges and things like that.”

“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. (Please click here to subscribe to our free newsletter.) New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded at Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, Google Play, SoundCloud and more.

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