So why wasn’t there already a new contract with the Food Network?

I said a couple of days that I probably wouldn’t post again anytime soon about the Paula Deen controversies, but there was one detail that had been nagging at me.

Why, a mere week from the expiration of the current contract, had Paula Deen and the Food Network not yet signed a new contract?

The lack of a new contract seemed to me an indication that this whole story was a little more complex than it appeared.

The Wall Street Journal addressed the issue of the contract today with Paula Deen’s Other Problem: Stale Ratings. From that piece:

For several weeks before the controversy blew up last week, Ms. Deen’s agent had been negotiating with the Food Network to extend her contract, which ends June 30, the people said. One issue complicating the negotiations: her ratings had slid substantially over the past season.

“Things were not going as planned,” said one person familiar with the negotiations, noting that an unresolved contract extension so late in the game was unusual. […]

The Food Network, majority owned by Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.didn’t cite a reason for its decision to drop her. But people close to the show and the food-television industry say the decision comes as the kind of “dump and stir” instructional food shows in which Ms. Deen and others, like Martha Stewart, specialized have fallen out of fashion. […]

Ratings for Ms. Deen’s show “Paula’s Best Dishes” were down 15% in total viewers—and 22% in the 18-49 demographic that advertisers care most about—for the 2012-13 season, compared with last season, according to Nielsen ratings provided by Horizon Media.

The article also notes the Food Network’s move toward “food-themed reality shows and cooking competitions” — a sharp departure from Deen’s programs.

And this:

As ratings declined, the cost of Ms. Deen’s show became too high for the network to support, according to people familiar with the matter, particularly as the network itself faced prime-time ratings declines of 17% in the target demographic and 15% in households for the 2012-13 season as of June 20, according to a UBS analysis of Nielsen ratings.

As noted in the piece, the ratings decline occurred after Deen announced that she had diabetes and was promoting a diabetes drug. The timing is not necessarily proof of a causal connection but I think there probably was a significant relationship.

Then again, the decline in Deen’s ratings seem broadly similar to the decline in the network’s ratings as a whole.

I have previously speculated that Americans’ changing tastes in food — the growing emphasis on fresher and more local ingredients — might have played a role in the Food Network’s decision. Given what’s noted in the WSJ piece, I was probably wrong about that. However, those changing tastes might have also contributed to the decline in Deen’s ratings over the last year or so.

I feel badly for Paula Deen this week, but my mind is boggled by the series of bungled PR decisions that began over a year ago and just kept intensifying.