Gusto’s Chris Knight

Chris Knight, CEO and president of Gusto Worldwide Media, talks to TV Real about his plans for the production of even more original content and for taking the Gusto TV channel into new markets.

A veteran of the TV industry and a food lover at heart, Chris Knight launched the lifestyle network Gusto TV in the Canadian market in December 2013. The channel is dedicated to all things food, from creative cooking to travel, with original programming produced in 4K. Earlier this year, the Gusto network became part of Bell Media’s bouquet of specialty channels. Gusto Worldwide Media, which Knight is CEO and president of, continues to supply programming for the channel.

TV REAL: When did food and TV first intersect for you?
KNIGHT: Food has always been my passion; the kitchen is where I’m most comfortable. I’ve also always been a writer. In 1997, a friend of mine in the television business said to me, Cooking shows are all the rage. At the time, I was a partner in a business-management firm. My friend said, Food shows are popular; you should come up with an idea. I came up with an idea for a show. He sent it to the CBC and told me not to hold my breath. Sure ***Image***enough, the following week they called and said they loved the idea. That’s how the whole thing started, and we’ve been growing and evolving ever since.

TV REAL: What was the impetus behind the launch of Gusto TV?
KNIGHT: It was a combination of things. There was a consolidation of media happening in Canada, as it was all over the world. I had been making all sorts of television shows, not just food shows, but with the consolidation there were fewer and fewer [outlets] to make TV shows for. At the same time, the only other food channel decided to migrate their programming to competitions, game shows and guys with big hair screaming at the camera and making giant hamburgers! They were wildly popular and successful with it and I hope they keep doing it because that allows us to grow. We felt that there was room in the market for a different kind of food channel, one that’s not all about contests and standing on one foot blindfolded in a bucket of eels trying to dice a baguette with a chainsaw!

When you go home at night and turn the television on, you have a lot of choices for drama, movies, sports. We felt that there was room for an alternative to the food programming that was on the air.

TV REAL: How did the deal with Bell Media come about and what does it mean for the Gusto brand?
KNIGHT: We were this feisty little independent broadcaster. A small company like ours launching a television channel these days is pretty unheard of! We were having a great time. There’s no owners manual that comes with launching a television network!

The partnership with Bell started with an initial discussion about co-productions. We wanted to see if they’d be interested in making TV shows together. One thing led to another and now they’re our partners. They’ve acquired the brand in Canada. It means potentially a meteoric growth for the channel in Canada, and it also means that we will be producing a hundred hours of original content every year for many years to come.

TV REAL: Why was it important to produce all the programming in 4K?
KNIGHT: Gusto is an HD channel in Canada. As a television producer for almost 20 years, [I’ve had shows] sold all over the world. When we started making original content for Gusto, we decided that we would shoot it in 4K and produce it in 4K because we knew that eventually it was going to be a big thing for the international market. 4K is just starting here in Canada, but it’s already well established in [other markets]. We feel that 4K is the future, much the same way HD took over from SD.

TV REAL: What are some of Gusto’s signature series?
KNIGHT: We stay away from [food] competitions. We have a lot of food shows, cooking shows, travel shows—the sort of programming that made food programming popular in the first place! As a channel we skew very young—almost 40 percent of our audience is under the age of 40. So if you’re wondering what millennials are doing, they’re watching Gusto!

When we started producing original content, we wanted to try to reinvent the genre. All the hosts [on our shows] are very young, articulate, passionate. The sets are high-concept. Even the cooking shows are not set in kitchens; they’re in food environments.

Here’s what I’m shooting right now: season two of One World Kitchen, season two of A is for Apple; season two of Fish the Dish; two one-hour One World Kitchen Christmas specials; a one-hour Fish the Dish Christmas special; a one-hour Christmas special with Michael Bonacini, who hosts MasterChef Canada; a one-hour Super Bowl special with Spencer Watts and Robert Jewell called Spencer and Robert’s Game Day Buffet. We’re doing a new series about Latin-influenced cuisine, looking at Cuban, Spanish, Peruvian and Mexican. We’re doing a vegetarian series. We’re doing another series about farm-to-gate, so going to farmers markets, taking fresh ingredients and cooking with them. This will all be shot before Christmas! We’re building a studio at the same time. We’re in discussions on a half-dozen co-pros with other broadcasters around the world. It’s been a crazy rollercoaster ride!

TV REAL: What are the plans for the future of Gusto TV?
KNIGHT: With the changes in OTT technologies over the last couple of years, it has now become cost-effective for us to look at launching the channel in new markets. Five years ago you had to be a Viacom or a Disney to have deep enough pockets to go and long-tail into other markets. There are some markets where we’re looking at launching on traditional platforms, but OTT has changed a lot of things. Our goal is to launch Gusto TV into two new markets by early 2017.

Also, we want to partner and shoot in the countries that we launch in. You have to reflect people’s homes, lives and values back to them.

Our motivation was, how do we create more really great content faster? We’re a small, private broadcaster in Canada. The answer was to partner with Bell Media. Now we’ll be producing about 100 hours of original content every year for years to come. That gives us a significant enough refresh rate to make the channel viable internationally.