Like millions of other people this recent holiday season, I received the year's hottest gift: a smart speaker. I plugged it in, set it up and stared. Now that I had it, what was I going to do with this thing? Luckily, I had just spoken to Liesel Kipp, Senior Vice President of Product and Design for Scripps Lifestyle Studios, the digital division of Scripps Networks Interactive. She shared some of the things her team is developing for Amazon Echo, Google Home and Microsoft Cortana, their cutting-edge applications for Facebook Messenger, and Scripps Networks Interactive's first foray into augmented reality.
Fulfilling Food Network's mission of connecting inspiration to action has come a long way since "state-of-the-art" meant customer service-mailed recipes to viewers. Today, the network is everywhere its fans are, aiming to make their lives easier and, per Kipp, help make those decisions about what to eat, cook for dinner or prepare for a holiday or event "frictionless and fun." Maintaining that customer focus amid a staggering rate of change, however, means Scripps is constantly exploring the new ways consumers are interacting with technology.
The product development team Kipp oversees is cross-functional, with editorial, user experience, engineering and product management professionals all involved to ensure that the content is optimized for each medium. Their "Look, Listen, Experiment, Expand" approach allows each new product brought to market to build upon learning from earlier efforts.
Agility is the key to success. "These are new platforms," Kipp explained. "The ways people are interacting with them is changing and evolving, so we have to as well."
To support Food Network, for example, Scripps Lifestyle Studios has developed a number of functionalities for intelligent assistants. Users can search Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Microsoft Cortana for a recipe by key word ingredient, show or chef, and "spin the flavor wheel" for a fun way to hear about new tastes and recipes. Viewers can ask their smart speaker "for the recipe on TV" and it will be emailed to them or displayed on the screen. Alexa users can add "Food Network Daily Bite" for daily tips and recipe ideas in their flash briefing. The Amazon Echo Show and Google Assistant screen devices add vibrant photography and Food Network's extensive video library to the mix.
Food Network launched a chatbot on Facebook Messenger in late 2016. What began as a simple way to help social media followers figure out "What's for dinner?" has developed into a more fun, visual and engaging experience. Select a recipe and the bot can help you find side dishes or companion recipes to make the perfect meal. You can share recipes, watch videos, subscribe to the "Daily Bite" for tips, and even play the "Meal Match" game for help deciding what to make for dinner, all within the Facebook Messenger app.
Knowledge gleaned from trying different things, monitoring audience size and engagement and listening to user feedback to redefine the Food Network chatbot has been applied by Kipp's team to a new chatbot for sister network HGTV, which just launched this week. That version provides design inspiration and helps users make their homes feel more like their own. It also includes an overview of what's trending in the home space and features inspiring galleries to browse and search.
Perhaps Scripps' most exciting new tech is enabling iPhone and iPad users to experience AR via the Food Network In the Kitchen app. They can insert a virtual cupcake into their real-life surroundings, decorate it and share it on social media. "Food is a key part of everyone's daily life," Kipp said. "Augmented reality provides people with the opportunity to reinvent their surroundings, try new things before making them and reimagine how they create, share and enjoy food."
Scripps continuously measures whether each product is filling a need for users where they are, on whatever platform they're using. While their current focus is on the user experience, advertisers should stay tuned for future integration opportunities.
Weighing in on advertisers' expectations, Vikki Neil, GM of Scripps Lifestyle Studios, said they have "come to expect our properties to be in emerging digital and content spaces [which gives them] the opportunity to integrate their brands into an evolving arena" and keep connected to the larger footprint and association with Scripps' brands like Food Network. "They often work with us first to test these spaces and to understand the landscape before making larger investments," she added.
Going back to my own kitchen, I discovered that by saying "OK Google, talk to Food Network" I can now get recipes by my favorite chef (Ina Garten) or find something to make for dinner with two ingredients I have in my fridge. Watch out, crock pot: That Google Home Mini may replace you as my favorite kitchen appliance!
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