How Bon Appétit Is Driving Engagement and Revenue With Its OTT App
Food lifestyle brand Bon Appétit has developed a recipe for viral long-form video series on YouTube, with its Test Kitchen editors starring as hosts. In 2018, the Condé Nast publication tripled its audience on the platform to more than 3 million subscribers, a number that has since grown to more than 3.9 million. The brand’s YouTube success – and its audience’s viewing habits – led Condé Nast Entertainment to launch a free Bon Appétit OTT app this February.
Many viewers were already using YouTube’s OTT apps to watch series on a connected TV or game console in their living rooms, says Matt Duckor, vice president of video at Condé Nast Entertainment. Their high engagement was also consistent with what Duckor considers “TV viewing habits.” Last month, Bon Appétit saw an average view duration of more than 11 minutes on YouTube.
“We figured if we could create and curate an experience on our own OTT app that showcased our content in a way that was consistent with how people are looking at content on Netflix and other players in the OTT space, then we could create a nice experience that would complement what we’re already testing and doing on YouTube and with other partners,” says Duckor, who oversees programming for Bon Appétit, Condé Nast Traveler, Epicurious, and Architectural Digest.
Since the OTT app launch four months ago, Bon Appétit has debuted three original series on the ad-supported channel, which is available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, and Roku. The brand releases all episodes of a new series in one batch on the OTT app – so viewers can binge-watch as they would on Hulu or Netflix – then later releases episodes one-by-one on YouTube. Bon Appétit’s inaugural OTT show, a food-centric travel program called “It’s Alive: Goin’ Places,” released a second four-episode season on the channel today.
The batch-release strategy is successfully driving engagement on the app so far. “We’re seeing an average session duration of 56 minutes,” says Duckor. “People are really engaged, watching multiple videos, and having long viewing sessions. It’s consistent with what we’re seeing on YouTube but in a supercharged way.”
With a focus on viewer retention and personality-driven programming, here’s how Bon Appétit is translating its YouTube success to its brand-owned OTT app.
Developing and Marketing the OTT App
Condé Nast Entertainment worked with OTT vendor MAZ to design a simple experience for app users reminiscent of other popular streaming platforms. “When you enter the Bon Appétit app it looks and feels familiar, if you know our content, but if you don’t it might feel like you’re in a Netflix-like experience,” says Duckor. “There’s big images and auto-playing video on the top righthand corner that gives you an idea of what the video’s going to be.”
The channel contains a browsable library of Bon Appétit programming organized into playlists by show or topic, with a heavy emphasis on “new” content. Duckor says the audience responds best when fresh episodes are clearly marked with a red banner in the upper corner of the thumbnail.
“People really respond to this idea of ‘new,’” says Duckor. “Obviously adding new content almost every single day to the channel, but also reordering and creating new playlists and ways to discover content.” The team has been A/B testing playlist titles and thumbnail images to identify keys to viewer attraction.
To drive existing audience to the OTT app, Bon Appétit announced its new channel organically in episodes of original series on YouTube, letting viewers know they could stream the rest of the series instantly on the OTT channel. The brand has not run any ads on YouTube to promote installation of the app, but is tapping into paid opportunities on Roku and Amazon Fire to highlight its OTT video content. The April launch of a new show called “Making Perfect,” which features all six of the brand’s Test Kitchen stars, proved viewers were willing to migrate for early access to more content: 41% of OTT viewers watched the first episode on YouTube and then followed the call-to-action to watch the remaining episodes on the app.
“The audience is willing to go to a different platform for content they care about,” says Duckor. “In some cases we saw a lot of anecdotal evidence on social media that they went out and bought an Amazon Fire Stick or Apple TV, set that up, downloaded the app, and watched the rest of the episodes, and in many cases came back to YouTube to the first episode to tell everyone that they watched the rest of episodes and how amazing the show was.”
Turning Staff Into Celebrity Hosts
Before Bon Appétit started developing the concept-driven shows it’s known for today – like “Gourmet Makes,” where a pastry chef recreates Doritos, Twinkies, and other popular snack foods – it created simple videos of Test Kitchen staffers cooking and talking about their recipes. “That was the training wheel set as we built up this video business and grew our presence on YouTube,” says Duckor. “As the revenue opportunity grew with video, so did these people.”
Over the past few years, Test Kitchen hosts including Claire Saffitz of “Gourmet Makes” and Brad Leone of “It’s Alive: Goin' Places" (pictured above, at right in an episode of the new season) have become YouTube celebrities with fans waiting for new episodes of their shows each week. Now Bon Appétit’s program development centers on these personalities, and the brand leverages their popularity to launch OTT original shows.
“We look at the core appeal of people, distill what they’re about and what the audience likes about them, and build an amazing concept around that,” Duckor says. For example, YouTube fans repeatedly commented that they loved Test Kitchen editor Molly Baz’s reactions when she was excited about something, so Bon Appétit launched a scavenger hunt-style show designed specifically to delight her. Another staffer, Chris Morocco, is recognized as a “super taster” by his colleagues, so the team created a series for him called “Reverse Engineering” where he tastes a dish blindfolded and uses his senses to recreate it.
“These people have always been core to the brand, but video has provided a quickly growing way that they become super accessible,” says Duckor. “Now it’s about making sure that we make all the connections deliberately on our other platforms – they’re at the events, their faces are in the magazine, they’re sharing their opinions on the website.”
Generating Revenue on OTT
Like its YouTube channel, Bon Appétit’s free OTT app is an advertising-supported model. Viewers are served pre-roll and mid-roll ads while they view content. The Bon Appétit team hasn’t observed any dip in retention when they show non-skippable mid-roll advertisements in their videos, says Duckor, who notes that some of the brand’s popular longer form videos are more than 45 minutes and serve up to five ads to viewers who watch until the end.
“Users are smart and understand that this is a business,” he says. “As long as the content that you’re serving them is really worth watching and high quality, and we think ours is, they’ll watch the ads.”
Native ads in video are a growing area of business for the brand – and were a focus of Condé Nast’s NewFronts presentation this year. The media company hopes to attract advertisers with Condé Nast Prime Placements, which offer integration into popular series like those on the Bon Appétit channel. For the launch of an OTT original series called “Baking School,” the brand did a product integration with MilkPEP, a board funded by national milk companies that promotes milk consumption.
“We’re constantly exploring how we can work with partners to show their products in ways that will easily fit within the bounds of what we’re doing editorially,” says Duckor.
Leah Wynalek is the senior editor for Publishing Executive and Book Business. She has worked at national magazine publishing companies including Trusted Media Brands and Rodale, where she assisted in digital content creation and strategy for Prevention.com. More recently, she used her multimedia skillset on behalf of clients as a content specialist for Philadelphia-based marketing agency En Route.