“ . . . Everything that Mario Batali has achieved is bigger, bolder and more recognizable,” reads the preface to the celebrity chef’s online bio—a preface that’s easy to agree with once you recognize the gravity of his achievements:
Twenty-six (and counting) restaurants worldwide . . .
Multiple James Beard awards . . .
Numerous bestselling cookbooks . . .
Immortal fame as one of the Food Network’s inaugural chefs . . .
Man-of-the-Year endorsement from GQ . . .
And, most recently, a coveted People’s Voice Webby Award for his leadership in online video.
Those interested in emulating his success in cookery would be well served studying his tutorials on homemade mascarpone and the finer points of mushroom preparation, among others in his online series.
Those interested in mirroring his successes in online video, on the other hand, should study the leadership of his media producer, Kate Previte.
Farm to Table, Table to Tablet
Kate’s first bit of advice for aspiring hosts and producers: own your own content. Batali launched his media career via television in the 1990s, but subsequent changes in technology and viewership made in-house video a logical next step.
“Mario wanted to build an online environment where his fans could go for advice, recipes, inspiration, and a chance to connect with him on a more personal level,” Kate explains. “We also wanted to keep things in-house so we would own the content. That way our content can remain accessible to people who want to view it.”
Their first hurdle in such a build? Creating content of sufficient quality to cut through the sea of available tutorials already saturating the likes of Google and YouTube.
Having Batali at the helm was hugely helpful, of course, but celebrity recognition alone is hardly enough. Rather, Kate says, you need a multi-tiered approach that encompasses strategic vision, tight regularity, and unwavering standards.
How to Satisfy an Audience: Rich Content, Lean Delivery
“Overall, it’s an endless pool of information out there on the interwebs,” says Kate, “and it can be hard for people to filter out the noise.”
To make this less hard, you really need a vision that marries strong content with strong delivery. For Batali and crew, this meant showcasing top-tier techniques and recipes (an easy task given Batali’s twenty-six top-tier restaurants) and then “cutting the fat” until each clip was maximally devoid of fluff.
“Some content producers don’t give their audience enough credit and consequently expect them to sit through an exhaustive seven-minute video on prepping calamari,” explains Kate. “Video can be an incredibly descriptive medium when used properly. Instead of filling our DIY videos with a lot of description and talking heads, we work on making the shots clear and focused so we can present ‘Prepping Calamari’ in a minute and thirty-eight seconds, which is actually one of our longest.”
Infrequency Is Never Ideal
Calling a series How-To Tuesdays gives you very little wiggle room as a producer. First, it commits you to creating actual value by way of useful education—and second, it commits you to doing so every Tuesday without fail. In return, however, these commitments bring an equal amount of reward.
Remember that “endless pool of information out there on the interwebs” Kate described? It’s really good at drowning content that’s sporadic and infrequent. You don’t necessarily have to release videos every seven days if you’re first exploring the medium—but you should certainly leverage the value of momentum by establishing some regularity.
“We’ve made sure we stick to a strict schedule and release a new How-To Tuesday video every week (on Tuesdays, of course). Our fans know to expect new content on a regular basis, so we make sure to deliver it, and that’s something they appreciate.”
Just another reason it made so much sense for them to segment their videos into easily digestible clips: it’s a lot easier to release fresh content every week if you commit to creating value in one-or-two-minute sprints. The more you add to this length, the more you risk exceeding your production abilities—and your audience’s attention spans.
In the aggregate, that’s precisely what makes streaming so practical: you can worry a lot less about having to over-explain a process when you know your viewers can always go back and watch it again.
Beauty Is No Longer a Barrier
Finally, there’s the quality of your visuals to consider. You can upload the best recipes and the best techniques twice every day with zero fluff—but they’re still likely to be washed over without strong visuals. This, says Kate, is the last piece of the puzzle.
“We really try to make all of our videos as visually satisfying as they are useful. We want the food to look beautiful, and we want you to enjoy that one or two minutes as much as possible.”
Historically, she admits, this has been easier said than done—but that’s hardly true today with the accessibility of quality equipment, production tutorials, and motion graphics.
“The biggest barriers have always been time, money and manpower. (As with all things!) But the good news is that digital technology has been getting better and better and cheaper and cheaper at an astounding pace. Almost anyone can afford to buy (or rent!) a camera that will produce beautiful images, and with a little research and practice, it’s becoming a pretty accessible art.”
Kate Previte is Mario Batali’s media producer. See her work at MarioBatali.com.
Matt Siegel writes about design, leadership, branding, and pop culture for Video Blocks. Follow his work at MattSiegelMedia.com.