Upstart Canadian channel Gusto TV tries to take on Food Network

Has Chris Knight bitten off more than he can chew?


The Ottawa-based entrepreneur spent years producing cooking shows for The Food Network and others. Then he decided he wanted to run his own network, Gusto TV.
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Mr. Knight went to, as he describes them, “a number of the learned, sage, elder statesmen of the broadcast industry.”

“To a person I was told I was out of my mind,” he recalls.

With the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission signalling an upcoming shift toward a la carte programming, even the Big Three Canadian media companies – Bell, Rogers and Shaw – are expected to shed specialty channels, not add them.

What was once seen as a license to print money has become – in an uncertain advertising environment – a risky business.

Mr. Knight knew the risks but jumped in anyway. He seems to take a perverse delight in being a David up against the Goliaths of Canadian broadcasting.

“When we started,” he says, “my goal was to be a positive disrupter in the clubby little oligarchy that is Canadian broadcasting.”

He’s spent years distributing shows all over the world and knows Canada’s reputation as a reliable show provider. He reacquired rights to many of his early Food Network offerings. Plus, as he says, after 17 years as a television producer, “I know how to squeeze a dime out of a nickel.”

He claims his entire marketing budget “isn’t even a rounding-off error on Food Network’s marketing budget.”

Besides cost efficiencies, he has another advantage as a network CEO, he says.

“I get you hungry, I get you interested. I reach you on a physiological level: your pupils dilate, your mouth waters, your tummy rumbles. The only other people who can do this are in porn.”

It’s been a year-and-a-half since Knight Enterprises launched Gusto TV. The independent specialty network is available to customers of Bell TV, Bell Fibe, Eastlink, Telus Optik TV and MTS. It will become available on Cogeco later this year.

On Monday, the station launches its first original series, “One World Kitchen.” Airing weeknights at 8 p.m. ET, the series features five female hosts from three Canadian cities: Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Mr. Knight wanted a show that reflects Canada’s diverse gourmet heritage. These hosts draw on Indian, Thai, Italian, South American and Japanese roots to present a diverse menu, Canadian style.

The hosts were found through a cross-Canada casting call. Mr. Knight was looking for diversity, both in region and culture.

“I wanted to do something that profoundly reflects the changing Canadian culture, and by extension, the national palate.”

He has a mainly female audience and felt casting five women “would be a great shout out to our core demo.”

“There are already too many shows with guys with big hair eating hamburgers.”

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