A cooking show for today

Apr 15 2016

What you’ll learn on “BBQ with Franklin,” a web series produced by PBS station KLRU: how to purchase a smoker, build a clean fire, buy meat, trim meat, season meat and cook it. Your instructor: Aaron Franklin, owner of the famed Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas.

As Franklin says in the series intro – with a comically self-deprecating nod – you’re “finally going to learn how to eat it, also.”

The series, which launched in 2012, is a Julia Child-style cooking show – only reimagined for the media landscape of today.

“BBQ with Franklin” first appeared on YouTube, later migrating to television. First-season episodes typically lasted seven minutes or less.

Then there’s the funding model.

If you contribute to a traditional PBS pledge drive, you might be mailed the gift of a CD called “Easy Yoga For Arthritis.” But for “BBQ with Franklin,” funding came from a crowdfunding campign, where supporters earned perks like a shoutout on Facebook or a photo of their name written on wood used to smoke brisket.

Sara Robertson, VP of Production & Technology for KLRU, talked with Reese News Lab about the inspiration for the series and lessons learned from the station’s experiments with crowdfunding. This interview has been edited and condensed.

RNL: How did BBQ With Franklin get started?

Robertson: We were looking for a new project that we were going to do specifically as a web series, and we thought it would be cool to do something with food. No public television station was doing web-only stuff at that time.

We were doing pledge in our studio, and it was a Julia Child pledge special, and we had a bunch of Austin chefs and Aaron Franklin was there. And we were just chit-chatting, and he was talking about how he was thinking about doing a web series.

And so I said, “Well, we’re actually looking for a new web project. Why don’t we talk?”

It was luck.

RNL: So how did you fund it?

This was around the time when crowdfunding was kind of getting popular, and somebody at PBS encouraged us to consider this as a way to raise funds. We raised almost $20,000.

It was exciting, because we saw that, wow! People are willing to support us in this way.

RNL: What did you learn from the experiment?

The power of a social network and peer-to-peer fundraising. I think that’s the big takeaway: Have other people fundraise for you. It’s all about getting outside your own network and how you can do that in an appealing way.

Truly, it was for us just another way of doing a pledge drive. So crowdfunding really wasn’t that big of a stretch. It was just how it was marketed.

Besides the financial benefit of crowdfunding, there’s huge marketing and promotion benefits, too. We built this database of supporters, so you keep in contact, keep them updated, and then use them as a network to help spread the word once the show finally airs or the episodes are online.

It was an experiment, and we did crowdfunding for a couple of other projects too. I think at this point, we might not do a straight-up crowdfunding, but we’ve figured out internally how to do messaging that’s very similar, with success.

RNL: What were keys to your success?

Aaron’s pretty famous and popular in his own way, and that was one reason these things were so successful. I think that’s key to crowdfunding: having that strong host or face of your campaign.

I think the timing of it – timing for crowdfunding and also timing for the subject matter – just were perfect, because central Texas BBQ is really starting to get recognition all around the world. People were wanting to learn how to do it and also get a T-shirt or a bumper sticker. So, you know, it was like the right time, right place for that.


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