America’s Test Kitchen Builds On Strengths As It Sets New Directions
America’s Test Kitchen carved out space as a high-end media brand long before the era of superstar TV chefs, gaining a large and loyal following behind co-founder Christopher Kimball. After Kimball left in a contract dispute three years ago, CEO David Nussbaum—at the company for less than two months—had to innovate at ATK on his own.
He did so, in interesting new ways.
The company was known for its rigorous testing of recipes and equipment, and for its folksy PBS cooking shows. It was trusted for its integrity and a no-ads policy in its print magazines and admired for brand innovation. Presiding over it all was Kimball, a bow-tied, glasses-wearing, transplanted New Englander in a red apron, who hosted the brand’s shows and came to symbolize its attributes. To the outside world, Kimball was ATK. When he left, the company was at a turning point.
It had lost Kimball, but it still had assets—a deep roster of talent both on air and off, two strong magazines, two television shows, and in Nussbaum, an executive with the experience to successfully manage a media company at scale.
Since then, ATK has expanded while still retaining the characteristics and audience that it had under Kimball. (Kimball has since launched a competing multi-faceted food-media brand, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street. ATK in 2016 sued Milk Street for allegedly stealing confidential ATK information.)
“Despite a change in show hosts, ATK and Cook’s Country TV remain the top two practical cooking shows on television,” Nussbaum says. “We’ve improved our technology, increased our social-media budget by four times, built best-in-class studios and kitchens—all this has enabled us to improve our digital subscription offerings, and growth in that area is quite strong.”
Two outside observers agree with Nussbaum’s assessment. “America’s Test Kitchen is thriving under the leadership of David Nussbaum,” says Reed Phillips, managing partner at Oaklins DeSilva + Phillips. “They seem to have a lot of strong growth initiatives in the works and are building a powerhouse business in the food-media space.”