Recently I’ve been getting several P.R. type emails from new sites that feature videos that they think appeal to food lovers. I do take a look at them, and with very few exceptions I must say that most of them are not worth my time.
I think the people who run all-video sites need to really understand two things before anything else. First is the difference between passive video viewing, i.e. on TV the way many of us still watch TV, and voluntary video viewing. Voluntary viewing means stuff that I must make a conscious effort to choose to view. DVDs fall into this category, as does online video. When I go to YouTube for instance, I need to search, click and then wait a bit to download the video. If the video is crap then I will never view it again, and chances are I’ll try to avoid anything uploaded by that user if I remember to.
The other thing is that video is not always the best medium for delivering information. Video takes time to watch. Morever, online video is at the moment very linear. For instance, if I’m watching a video about how to make an apple pie, and I need to go back to watch the part about how to roll out the pastry, it’s really not that easy. (A well-made DVD on the other hand would have the right bookmarks.)
At the moment, all-video simply doesn’t work well online. A combination of text, still pictures and short, to-the-point videos would seem to be the ideal combination. For instance New York Times food section has been offering a few short video clips recently. It really works, in my opinion. But on the other hand…personally I only watch these clips once, or maybe twice. The accompanying article/recipe is read over and over.
Now let’s get to the content of some of those new food-oriented video sites. If the site is predominantly offering fluff pieces about some new restaurant or bar or whatever, I am not interested. Video always takes more time than text or text + pictures to consume, and I don’t have the patience or time or inclination to view what are basically long commercials.
Not counting food blogs with video content, there is one new and rather intriguing all-video site (and they didn’t even send me a P.R. email). Rouxbe  offers paid membership options to their video-only instructional food site. The site is gorgeous, and the videos seem to be of very high quality, shot in that high key, soft-limited-focus way. (The intro video with the fake-ish bantering is supremely annoying, but maybe that’s just me.) However, it is a pay service, and the question is whether people will pay a subscription to download and watch these videos, with so many free alternatives out there. I’m not sure. I wouldn’t pay for it myself, to be honest. The videos on the site look very expensively produced, which makes me wonder what kind of funding they have to sustain themselves.
I also question the whole concept of whether video is superior at ‘improving your cooking skills’, over good old cookbooks. I think the only way to become a better cook is to do it over and over and over again. Ideally you would do this with instruction from a live teacher, who could be an actual teacher/chef or your cooking-savvy mom/brother/friend, but it’s the doing it over and over part that’s most important…like a lot of things in life I suppose. And cookbooks, really great ones, are proven vehicles of good information.
It does remind me of a scene in the movie Desperately Seeking Susan , where the Rosanna Arquette character, a bored housewife who can’t cook, puts a Julia Child video on the TV in her beautiful kitchen to see how to make dinner. Maybe it will work for those people who have a computer in their kitchen or can untangle their laptop enough to bring it there, who can’t cook from books or memory. (I wouldn’t let my laptop anywhere near my cooking myself…)
Any regular readers of this site would know that I do really like food shows on TV. I’ve written reams of paragraphs about Top Chef , MasterChef , and other food television  here. There are whole channels dedicated to food in many countries (there was an announcement recently that there’s one starting up on Swiss TV too). I own DVDs by Julia Child, Nigella Lawson, and several from Japan. So I think I could be an ideal audience for food video sites. But, so far nothing appeals to me enough to make me want to return to any of them…and I think I know why. I don’t really watch Julia or Nigella etc. just to get the recipes, though that’s part of it. It’s also to enjoy them as pure entertainment. Nothing offered by food video sites so far is entertaining enough.