Paula Deen Web Network Tests TV Chef's Redemption

Hoping Scandal is Behind Her, Celebrity Chef Tries Launches Online Without Ads

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It's been a year since Paula Deen fell from grace after admitting to using racial slurs. Now the celebrity chef is looking to make a comeback online.

But are viewers ready to put the scandal behind them, and more importantly, will they pay up to watch her deep-frying and butter-slathering on a digital-only network?

Despite the fallout from last summer's controversy, which resulted in Ms. Deen losing her show on Food Network and multiple product endorsements, plenty of fans have stuck by her.

Ms. Deen has nearly 1.3 million Twitter followers and 4.2 million Facebook likes, topping other big-name celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse. And she continues to corral fans on the "Paula Deen Cuisine" cruises she has been hosting since 2009. (For the first time there are two cruises this year; one was in January and the next will be in July).

Ms. Deen will also embark on a 20-city tour this summer; opened a retail store earlier in the year; and plans to open another restaurant and retail location this summer. Paula Deen Ventures also reportedly received $100 million in private-equity funding from Najafi Cos.

According to Paula Deen Ventures CEO Steven Nanula, Ms. Deen had several offers to return to broadcast TV but she decided to instead launch the Paula Deen Network because it gives her a "greater level of direct access to her millions of fans when it is convenient for them."

It also allows Ms. Deen to retain full creative control over the shows, recipes and content, he said in a statement.

And since the network is not ad-supported, she also avoid beings beholden to sponsors. While she may have retained a large portion of her fan base, it's questionable whether brands would want to associate with Ms. Deen and her network. Amid the PR crisis, she was dropped by Walmart, Smithfield, QVC and Novo Nordisk, among others.

The subscription channel is slated to bow in September and will be accessible on computers, mobile phones and tablets, as well as internet-connected TVs at a later date. Currently, there's no indication as to how much the network will cost subscribers.

The Paula Deen Network will include both short- and long-form programming. Shows will follow themes like "Leftover Mondays" and "Taco Tuesdays," as well as holiday-centric content. Programming includes "20-Minute Meals," "Paula Cooking Light" and "One Dish, Three Ways."

The network will go beyond cooking, with lifestyle segments highlighting the best of Southern living, such as decorating tips and exploring local merchants.

Production began in mid-May at Ms. Deen's new studio in Savannah, Ga., which has been designed to closely resemble the set of her first TV series, "Paula's Home Cooking." Fans can sign up to receive updates and early registration for the channel begins next month. Subscribers will receive a 14-day free trial period.

Ms. Deen is the latest to go directly online with content, with several online-only channels popping up in recently months.

WWE Network has been the buzziest of these, starting up in February and acquiring more than 600,000 subscribers in just two months. In April, network executives said the online channel, which costs subscribers $9.99 per month, was on track to reach its goal of 1 million users by the end of the year.

TV veterans Jeff Gaspin and Jon Klein have also embarked on their own digital video venture with Tapp. The two are currently building a platform that will be home to a variety of personalities. Currently, the only network available on Tapp's site is a channel dedicated to faith and healing from Christian counselor and therapist Steve Arterburn. Sarah Palin is also reportedly primed to get her own channel.

Glenn Beck was one of the first to successfully make headway online, with TheBlaze, which launched in 2011 as GBTV. As of July 2013, TheBlaze said it had about 300,000 subscribers paying $9.95 per month.

Despite its digital roots, and a respectable subscriber base, TheBlaze has moved beyond its online channel, and is now also carried on Dish Network, among other pay-TV providers.

The big question mark for Ms. Deen's network will be if she can convert her Food Network viewers and social media followers into paying subscribers. "Paula's Favorite Dishes" took a hit before Ms. Deen was dismissed from Food Network, averaging 835,000 viewers on any given night, down from more than 1 million viewers in 2012.

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