Bravo's 'Top Chef' Digs Into the Food Snapping Habit

"You never post on Facebook, and now you decided to send out a picture of a dead pig?" my daughter complained earlier this year. I don't even know why I did it, but it sure did ruffle some feathers among my vegetarian friends.

We were at the Mobile Insider Summit in Key Biscayne, Fla., getting served a luxe dinner at the Ritz-Carlton, and there was a whole roast pig ready for the carving. For some strange reason, and even though I am Facebook-averse, I posted a snapshot of the considerably overtanned porker to my page. My wife, a devout vegetarian, received condolences from her like-minded friends immediately. My daughter is texting me and my wife is instigating conflict ("Did you see what he just did?") Suddenly I was a fiend. Another reason for me to avoid Facebook. It was just pork, after all. Geez. 

What exactly possesses us to take phone-cam images of our meals is beyond me, but Bravo has wisely found a way to leverage this habit and align it with one of their hit properties in a new app attached to the upcoming season of "Top Chef." Judge's Table lets users "Rate Their Plate."

"There is this trend of people taking pictures of what they are eating," says Aimee Viles, Bravo's vice president of new media. "We wanted to help them be more creative in how they describe the dish and rate it." The user can assign to the dish quotes from some of the "Top Chef" judges.

The app is designed from the ground up to be social. You create a full rating card on a dish that can outline its qualities and then share with others. The app is designed to discover both great new food in your area, but also good judges of good food nearby. "When we were looking at the social integration, it was not only about learning about new restaurants and dishes but also who are the smartest judges in your market," says Viles. "You gain more exposure to the food culture near you."

One of the challenges of an app like this was balancing depth with convenience. Viles and company were thinking through the use case of being out to dinner and being inspired to snap your plate. With user-generated content, "it has to be easy and fun," she says. "It can't feel like work." And so Bravo did focus groups, having people come to lunch and use the app -- and discovered how social an activity it was. Focus group members discussed what to take a picture of and how to rate a dish. But at the same time, the app dispenses with any interruptions like a Facebook Connect log-in -- anything that would add a step between inspiration and fulfillment.

When it comes to accompaniments to TV programs, Bravo has a multi-pronged approach facilitated by its existing Bravo Now iPhone and iPad app that viewers can use in synch with live broadcasts. This was among the first TV apps to experiment with second-screen programming, allowing viewer chat, live-celebrity messages and pop-up video clips to run in tandem with the broadcast.  In the case of Judge's Table, the aim here was to use the app to further entertain hard-core viewers but also to reach out to more-casual viewers and involve them in the show. The ability to post to Facebook and Twitter extends the range of the brand as well.

But be careful what food you post. Before I Facebooked that roast pork, I had no idea that even my meals could tarnish my reputation.

"Poor pig," "You going to eat that?" "What does your partner think of you eating that thing?" the SMS missives ran. I think my nephew called me a pig-killer. Lesson learned. In the new age of social media, you post it, you own it.

I really hate this Facebook crap.   

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