The SPI Files: Matt Schoch, PBS Food

by Amy Baroch, Station Products & Innovation

Happy New Year and welcome to the first SPI Files of 2012! The holidays may be over and most of us may be focusing on our new diets, but this doesn't mean food isn't on still on our minds! Particularly, PBS Food. This week on the SPI Files we have set our sights on Matt Schoch, the Senior Editor for PBS Interactive. Matt is seen left with his Elmo loving son, Sam.

Who are you and what do you do at PBS?

My name is Matt Schoch – I am a Senior Editor for PBS Interactive. I split my time between the PBS Food website and working on the Producer Products and Services team, which works with national producers to develop web strategies.

How long have you been at PBS?
I started at PBS in August of 2008.

Before PBS, what did you do?
Before coming to PBS, I was the Web Editor for the Newspaper Association of America. I have worked in digital media at a variety of organizations in Washington, D.C. from startups to non-profits to now a media organization that is a non-profit, but sometimes can feel like a startup (PBS Food).

If you didn't work in public media, what would you be doing?
I would be a professional racecar driver in the Indycar series. (Probably not, but I can dream.) Editor note: below is a photo of Matt driving an Indycar at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2008.

Explain PBS Food in Twitter-style, 140 characters or less.

2 bloggers, 2000+ recipes. Mix smart chefs + dozens of local favs, add a dash of Julia Child + a pinch of fun - perfect recipe.

Tell us a little more about PBS Food…
The idea for PBS Food really started with our audience. We noticed that recipes were consistently one of the top-searched terms on, and we got a lot of feedback about what a frustrating experience it was to come to and try to find the food content.

Considering the amount of cooking programming, both local and national, that people watch on weekends or on Create, it was an audience we were not serving properly.

The initial goal was really to help people find the cooking content and recipes they were looking for. We quickly realized that the site was a great opportunity to take advantage of PBS's local/national strategy and present local content to a national audience. The great thing about food content, unlike local news, is that you can live in Minnesota and love to eat Cajun food. A locally-produced show from New Orleans might be exactly what you want to watch.

We also discovered that there is so much smart and amazing food and cooking content being created by local stations, it gives us a very unique advantage that other cooking sites don’t have.

Combining the local content with the other fabulous chefs on public television and the two food bloggers we contracted with for the site, we were able to develop a compelling experience in a short period of time.

The key is to keep building on our initial success and find new ways to leverage the strengths that make PBS cooking programs unique and superior.

What are some of the secrets to the success of PBS Food?
We spent a lot of time up front identifying the ways that PBS can be different and better than our competition. Obviously, we aren’t going to be Food Network out the door, but what strengths do we have that they don’t? Certainly, we took advantage of our local programs and ties, our strong parents/KIDS content and the well-known chefs like Jacques and Julia that people associate with PBS.

We also have worked to create a network of food bloggers who read and talk about the site. With little on-air promotion, our strategy was to get the site known and respected by many of the prominent food bloggers.

What have been some of the challenges launching a new initiative at PBS Interactive?
No secret to anyone in public media, but funding is always a big challenge. So we’ve had to scale back some of the ideas and site functionality we would have loved to offer out of the box.

It's also very difficult to promote broadcast or capitalize on television viewers since stations air cooking content on different schedules.

What is the next big thing for PBS Food?
Our next challenge is to create a way to help funnel the content we have compiled on the PBS Food site so that stations can take advantage of it on their own sites.

We are also always focused on finding ways to support other initiatives that can help stations find and retain members or build revenue.

What do you see as the future for public media and how does PBS Food fit into that vision?
I hope the future involves a lot of collaboration and sharing at all levels of public media. We can’t afford to sit in silos any longer. We also need to be more efficient and focused on the reasons that people love public media.

Hopefully, our site can be an example of how working together and collaborating in new ways can raise all of our profiles. I believe that the value of the public media “team” is far greater than the sum of our parts – to our audience, to members and to underwriters/sponsors.

And – just for fun – a few quick-fire questions:

iPhone or Android? iPhone, though I think Android phones are cool as well.
Dogs or cats? Good to have both in your life, they fill different needs.
Blog platform of choice? Our site uses Wordpress.
Elmo or Grover? My 2-year-old son disagrees, but Grover.
I am currently listening to… at this exact moment, Bruuuuuce.
I am currently reading… Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
I’m currently watching… tough with 2 young kids, but I don’t miss Community, Parks & Recreation or Maryland Terps basketball
Most overused phrase: “Let’s Talk Offline.”

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