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A new entertainment twist: Digital shows go to TV

The Grill Iron.
Source: The Grill Iron.
The Grill Iron.

One of Snapchat Discover's newest publishers isn't just concerned about programming for vertical screens. Digital video network Tastemade is heading to The Cooking Channel, marking the first time one of its series has been greenlit for TV.

"We started this company focused on digital, and as digital grew, focused on mobile content creation," said Tastemade co-founder Larry Fitzgibbon. "Through this process, we've developed great content shot in HD and from our point of view why would we limit ourselves?"

Tastemade's "The Grill Iron," which documents college football tailgating traditions and asks local chefs to help fire up some game-day grub, will air weekly beginning Sept. 5 on the Scripps Networks Interactive channel. What also sets "The Grill Iron" apart is that it wasn't developed for television specifically. The show is one of Tastemade's digital series, and the online episodes are simply being rebroadcast on The Cooking Channel.

Fitzgibbon said the main goal of getting on the small screen was to introduce themselves to a broader audience who may not have been familiar with the online series. The Cooking Channel did not respond to requests for comment at time of publication.

"It was more about extracting value for the quality of content we create when we create original programming," he said.

"The Grill Iron" isn't the first show from a digital network to grace TV airwaves, but it's part of a growing trend of online native series making the jump. During the 2015 Digital Content NewFront presentations in New York, The New York Times announced its digital team was working with The Travel Channel to turn its series "36 Hours" into a television program. Maker Studios also heralded it was in development for a reality TV series about aspiring YouTube creators for ABC Family.

Vice has been rumored to be in talks to get its own channel from A&E Networks, which will allegedly rebrand its H2 channel for the millennial media giant. Vice has not commented on the rumors. A&E did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Even before last year, multichannel network (MCN) AwesomenessTV crossed over onto Nickelodeon, and had a two-season sketch comedy run on the kids' network. Another MCN, Collective Digital Studio brought its viral series "The Annoying Orange" to Cartoon Network. Sixty episodes of "The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange," as it's known on TV, ran on the network from 2012 to 2014. CDS' "Epic Meal Empire," which stars its Epic Meal Time crew, is currently on FYI.

"Digital has a massive development pipeline that traditional TV can't compete with because of the nature of how TV development occurs. ... Digital content is not marked as being experimental. These companies are putting marketing dollars behind it, and you're going to see more and more of it," explained David Anderson, a senior vice president at advisory firm Medialink.

With everyone preaching that more eyeballs are moving toward mobile screens, it may seem counterintuitive for these digital video networks to want to go in reverse. However, Greg March, CEO of media agency Noble People, points out that even though the trend is heading online, companies still spend about $80 billion on television advertising and just $10 billion on digital video ads.

And, while TV watching is stagnating and even declining, it's still the market leader, March said. According to eMarketer, U.S. adults spend about four hours and 15 minutes daily watching TV—and just one hour and 16 minutes viewing digital videos.

"Plus, television has the perception of premiumness," March said. "There's a lot of garbage on television, but there is an incredible collection of garbage on the Internet."

On the other hand, Medialink's Anderson said TV networks are intrigued by their digital counterparts. Unlike TV, digital companies can create more programs and pilots thanks to lower budgets. It's easier to toss something away and just invest in the winners, which come with some sort of guarantee thanks to online viewers. TV is always looking for kids' and cooking programs, which work in the favor for digital networks since those are among the cheaper series to produce.

"If you look at the categories of content, there aren't many outlets in traditional TV that do cooking besides The Cooking Channel, Food Network and TBS, and Tastemade does," he said. "It's bringing more choice and more diversity both in the format and in talent. It's interesting, according to audiences."

Anderson added it's also what's leading the charge for television networks to invest in MCNs. Maker Studios was famously bought by Disney for almost $1 billion. Warner Bros. has invested about $42 million in Machinima as of February. And Scripps Networks led Tastemade's latest funding round in June. Fitzgibbon said the partnership is partially what helped lead to it licensing content to The Cooking Channel.

"You're starting to see the macrotrend of distribution, the network wanting to be closely aligned with the ownership of the content," Anderson said. "They want to own the shows that they're putting on, because that solves a lot of fundamental challenges with the disruption that is going on in the business. It makes a lot of sense to be financially aligned with some of the creators of that content."