FoodieTV, the latest iOS app from Glam Media (creators of foodie.com and Foodie Recipes), offers a curated collection of short-form videos with engaging food and travel content, from guided walks through Beijing’s best street food and step-by-step recipes to spotlights on chefs and independent cheesemakers. We chat with Marc Escobosa, VP of product management at Glam Media, about developing a sustainable platform for content creators, the evolving landscape of video distribution, and FoodieTV’s most popular videos.
AndrewZimmern.com: What’s the backstory of FoodieTV? How’d it all get started?
Marc Escobosa: With the success and popularity of our recipe and restaurant discovery app, foodie.com, and our digital cookbook app, Foodie Recipes—both of which feature content from independent food publishers—it became clear to us that there was strong interest in professional quality, independently produced digital content around food. Naturally, we started wondering if the same might not be true for video.
Now, as passionate as the editorial team here at Foodie is about food, we’re even more so about the stories behind how what we eat came to be. So we started exploring the food video space and we stumbled across amazing indie producers like The Perennial Plate and Homegrown Swedes as well as countless others whose work we were surprised we had never seen. Many of their pieces were 3 to 8 minutes long—which in today’s crowded media environment strands them a bit in between the super short viral videos you see in your Facebook timeline and the longer form shows you consume on television each night. Put another way, they’re a bit too long for most people to watch on a smartphone in the middle of the day and they aren’t quite long enough for people to relax to on the couch or in bed.
We realized that if we could curate the best of the best and package them into a form that made them as easy to enjoy as television, we could get a lot more people to see these amazing pieces. And that’s FoodieTV. Five fantastic videos presented each Wednesday unveiling the world behind the food. We have spent the last decade building sustainable platforms for independent publishers to earn a living with their words and images; FoodieTV is our answer to how we might be able to do the same for independent filmmakers.
AZ.com: What type of consumer is this application geared toward?
ME: People who are passionate about food and the stories behind it—especially those who are increasingly looking for a deeper connection with the larger global ecosystem that provides them with the food they eat. Our goal is to pick stories with universal and timeless appeal that are as enlightening as they are entertaining.
AZ.com: What is unique about this concept? How does it stand out from other food and travel applications?
ME: We believe having too many choices is often a burden for people—especially when it comes to picking how they’d like to be entertained. It’s one of the reasons television persists as an incredibly popular medium to this day. By limiting the number of decisions the viewer has to make—and by wrapping the professionally curated content in a content-forward, minimalist interface, we think FoodieTV is particularly amenable to helping people connect deeply with the content in a way other applications fail to capitalize on.
AZ.com: What have been some of the most successful videos thus far?
ME: It’s still early on in the life of the app, but so far we’ve seen a surprising diversity amongst the favorites. Twenty Dishes showcases the incredible food at Frantzén in Stockholm in a high-speed timelapse of one of their three-hour meals. Paratha brought viewers to breakfast in Ladakh and Beijing Street Food introduced people to scorpion as a food item, among other things. Celebrating Place is a beautiful ode to the fantastic nomadic table-to-farm dinners organized by Outstanding in the Field. We heard from more than a few people who found Cheesemaker a rapturous look at goat herding in Burgundy and if you haven’t seen what Maltese pastry chef Chris Zammit can do with fondant in Cake Decorator, you’re missing out.
AZ.com: How does this business model work for content creators?
ME: Our goal is to build a sustainable platform for content creators where they can get their work discovered in a highly managed, immersive environment befitting the high production value of their films. By featuring creators as one of only 5 pieces to watch per week we are hoping to shine a spotlight on them in front of a growing audience of people who love precisely the kinds of pieces they are producing. Outside the app, we mention the works in tweets and provide the creators with lots of social attention throughout our network of food content creators. Without apps like ours, content creators face an uphill battle getting their work distributed and covering their production costs. We want to chip away at that problem.
AZ.com: For someone to call this a TV network is correct in the sense NBC is essentially like you, distributing aggregated content… Will we see ads someday?
ME: That is a very perceptive analogy and we are tickled to be thought of in those terms—especially given the app has only been out for a few months. But yes, it is a fair characterization. We are aggregating producers’ work into a managed content stream and then creating a distribution platform for entertainment that can sustain both our creators and us.
As far as whether or not the app will have ads, we haven’t decided yet. Business models are evolving very quickly in the digital world, especially for video distribution. Even between apps, set-top boxes, smart televisions and mobile web the conditions are quite dynamic. Over the course of the next year, we will be carefully evaluating all our options by platform so that we can best support the kind of quality user experience we feel is necessary to make this idea work.
AZ.com: How do you compete with fans using YouTube searches for food videos?
ME: Well, that’s the thing. Other than for things like recipes, where the person is actively trying to learn how to do something, who really searches YouTube for videos they don’t even know exist? Would you search YouTube for “the wistful tale of a French pharmaceutical researcher who decides to give it all up to become a small-batch goat cheese producer in rural Burgundy?” And yet, the minute you start watching that piece, you can’t stop. There is a tremendous discovery problem for beautifully told stories that fit in between the long-form content of traditional television shows and the things that show up in your social timelines. (The piece about the French goatherd is called Cheesemaker and it’s in Episode 04, by the way.)
In our minds, we aren’t really competing with YouTube at all. We’re competing with that book you said you would read for book club this month that you aren’t so sure about now that you got to page 86. We’re competing against whether or not you really need to binge watch a 6th hour of House of Cards tonight or fall asleep with FoodieTV on your iPad reconnecting to the things you believe in.
AZ.com: Where do you hope FoodieTV will be in 5 years?
ME: Well, you know what they say about death and taxes. Kidding aside, we want to be a leading entertainment platform for food-related films. And we want to have become so by building a constellation of platform-appropriate apps that connect independent filmmakers with highly engaged audiences, wherever they are. Ultimately, our goal is to be an important voice in the global conversation about what we eat and how we can best preserve and honor it.
AZ.com: Currently the application is available on mobile devices and tablets, any plans to apply this concept to larger screens?
ME: Absolutely! So many of the pieces are gorgeously shot and really shine on larger screens. Already today, you can mirror your display to an Apple TV using the Airplay mirroring built in to iOS. If you drag up the Control Center from off the bottom of the screen and you are in the presence of an Apple TV, you can enable Airplay. We’ve found it looks particularly stunning when done from an iPad (because the player fetches a higher resolution version of the film due to the larger screen) but even from an iPhone it’s great. One thing we particularly love about this arrangement is that your iOS device functions like a remote from your lap or nearby—allowing you to control the carousel of videos without having to get up from the couch.
Marc Escobosa was born in San Francisco to a storytelling father and a multi-lingual Belgian mother. He was raised bilingually in French and English but to this day regrets never having mastered his mother’s native tongue, Flemish.
He studied neuropsychology at Dartmouth College and interaction design in a small town in northern Italy—both of which have helped him enormously as a product designer and strategist for many startups and technology companies over the course of the last two decades.
A consummate traveler and devoted photographer, he’s never met a country he didn’t want to visit. Some of his most cherished trips to places like Botswana, Myanmar and Zanzibar provide him to this day with the everlasting inspiration to help celebrate the world’s incredible diversity while recognizing the common human condition we all share.
He and his wife live in San Francisco with their two young daughters.
Photograph by Michael Topolovac.