BEF ’12: Building a branded reality show

At the Branded Entertainment Forum, MEC Entertainment's Chet Fenster and A&E's Jessica Morgan discussed the creation of Fix This Kitchen, a series designed to change consumer's opinions of IKEA.
October 24, 2012

At yesterday’s Realscreen Branded Entertainment Forum in New York City, Chet Fenster, managing partner at MEC Entertainment, and Jessica Morgan, director of non-fiction and alternative programming for U.S. cable network A&E, described how they worked together to create Fix This Kitchen, a series designed to change opinions of IKEA.

In the case study, Fenster detailed the initial problem that the Swedish furniture company wanted to solve: perceptions of IKEA product quality and what the company actually offers.

Inspired by home makeover shows, Fenster and team arrived at the idea of creating an unscripted show about people wanting to unleash their inner chef but who were held back by an outdated kitchen. Each week would see a different family getting a new IKEA kitchen courtesy of a designer, while a different celebrity chef would use the new kitchen to teach the family some tasty dishes.

After bringing in a production partner, Knoxville-based RIVR Media, he approached A&E. “It was the top choice because of its audience composition,” he said.

In an unusual move, the media agency came to the network with the pitch, with A&E’s head of ad sales in attendance.

Every step of the show’s development saw Fenster and his team having the brand and the network sign off on everything, which sometimes didn’t go according to plan. When it came to casting, Fenster says the aim was to be diverse – geographically, ethnically and financially. At one point they’d found a “quirky” family in Seattle which would’ve been perfect for IKEA, but too left of center for A&E. In another instance, Fenster said MEC landed a famous French chef to be on the show, but the network didn’t think his accent would work with its audience.

Fenster said Fix this Kitchen‘s first season succeeded in changing the perception of consumers, with two out of three people polled more likely to visit after watching the show, according to research conducted for A&E.

The network decided to go forward with a second season, and IKEA signed on again. This time, they tweaked the format to improve the ratings. For season two, there would be one chef working with one designer, and sometimes not smoothly.

“The challenge is helping brands understand that conflict is drama. Conflict isn’t at the expense of a brand,” said Fenster. “If there’s no conflict, you pretty much have a flat show.”

Audiences indeed increased in season two, and SBS 6 in The Netherlands has greenlit a local version of the series, even using the English title. IKEA and MEC retain ownership of the show internationally.

Fenster finished up with advice to producers about getting into bed with brands, or their media agencies, to create content for a network. “Our modus operandi is it’s one voice to the network,” he said. “Producers are our partners and we always present a united front to the network.”

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.