On Monday, August 14, at 10 p.m. Food Network will premiere the eponymous I Hart Food. Hart amassed millions of loyal followers on YouTube with her popular weekly web series My Drunk Kitchen, which premiered in 2011, featuring Hannah drunkenly attempting to cook menu items as complex as crab cakes or panna cotta.
I Hart Food will take Hart out of her kitchen and on an explorative food journey across America for a six-episode run. While she will sample vodka-infused ice cream at a pit stop in Oregon during episode four, her presence on Food Network plays to her unique individuality, not her drunk cooking shtick.
"My personal motto is 'practice reckless optimism'," says Hart. "It means be informed, grounded, realistic and hopeful." Her projects to date have personified this motto. Beyond My Drunk Kitchen, Hart has produced video how-tos, confessionals and Q&As covering a range of topics like LGBTQ issues and volunteering. She was recognized by the White House for her philanthropic efforts, including "Hello, Harto" and "Have a Hart Day," which encourage young leaders to volunteer.
"Our audience connects with our talent on a very personal level," says Kathleen Finch, Chief Programming, Content and Brand Officer, Scripps Networks Interactive. "While food drives and connects all that we do at Food Network, reflecting the real personalities of our talent is what audiences relate to. Hart's enthusiasm for food was what Food Network noticed, along with a loyal and passionate following across her digital platforms."
This is not the first time that Food Network has looked to digital platforms to cultivate new talent. Food Network star Ree Drummond was scooped up in 2011 thanks to her hugely successful cooking and lifestyle blog. She made guest appearances on Food Network shows before hosting her own program, The Pioneer Woman, titled after her blog. Similarly, Hart was featured on Food Network Star this past spring and will also guest on Beat Bobby Flay.
Talent with a preexisting fan base is beneficial to Food Network as it continues to connect growing audiences across programs and platforms. Audiences clearly like their food media served on all screens as indicated by data from the Scripps Networks Interactive Digital Division, which reported 5.6 billion video views in Q2 2017. Food Network also has plans to grow an online food publication, Spoon University, which it acquired in May.
At 30, Hart speaks for a generation who "seem to live to eat," notes Finch. "Our research tells us Millennials care a lot about the ingredients and the overall experience when it comes to the food they consume."
But will Hart's YouTube fans follow her to television? Social media seems to suggest so. The Food Network social feeds have been lighting up with excitement from her fan base. "My peeps are as stoked as I am," notes Hart in her candid manner of speech. Finch is optimistic that her liveliness and authenticity will resonate across all audiences, not just those under a certain age.
Hart is quick to self-qualify as a food enthusiast versus a culinary expert. She is passionate about food and energized by its connective ability to fill stomachs and minds. Her enthusiasm pairs well with the Food Network ethos -- inform, entertain and engage through food experiences. Hart's experiences on I Hart Food will include lobster fishing in Portland, ME, and a BBQ in Asheville, NC.
"As our audience has evolved so has our content," Finch explains. "While we still have what we call our ITK (In the Kitchen) instructional series, satisfying today's audience has meant broadening our menu to also include travelogues, competitions and docu-style series as well as digital and social short form. All of these formats enable us to present the world of food in different ways while also offering the audience some valuable take-away."
For Hart, making the transition from being her own boss to having other cooks in the kitchen has been easy. "It was a relief and a wonderful learning experience," she says of working alongside Food Network and production company Warrior Poets.
When the show premieres next week, it will do so without any specific advertisers connected -- but that strategy is anything but half-baked. "In success, we will be able to do better for both the show and the advertiser after we scale up and have more learnings from season one," says Finch, who did note positive response to the show during Scripps' Upfront presentation.
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