Going places with Travel Channel

During MIPTV realscreen sat down with Travel Channel's VP of television programming and commissioning Carey O'Bannon Kyler, who says the channel is continuing to expand its horizons, with programming geared for primetime.
April 26, 2010

At one time, when tuning in to the Travel Channel, the expectation would be to find an exposition on a different location per night. The channel may have been the go-to station for viewers when they were planning their next vacations, but now, according to its VP of television programming and commissioning Carey O’Bannon Kyler, Travel Channel is focused on delivering series that can compete with other primetime viewing options.

In order to be competitive with hit entertainment programming, says Kyler, the channel has made a move toward hybrid programs that combine travel stories with other genres such as food (see its hit Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations) or the paranormal (Ghost Adventures).

‘What we’ve done with the Travel Channel is we’ve flipped the notion of travel kind of on the side,’ says Kyler. ‘It’s still about travel but it’s more about the destination experience.’

Kyler says that finding the right personalities for Travel Channel programming is often more important from an audience perspective than what destinations they’re hitting. While specifically reality-oriented casting doesn’t work for the channel, celebrities don’t tend to either, so the happy medium is to cast experts in their fields who can take the audience through genuine experiences in different parts of the world while maintaining authenticity. For instance, when Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods, goes to Guangzhou, China, Kyler says viewers tune in to see what odd edibles Zimmern is going to find, rather than because Guangzhou is a hot spot. ‘The destination becomes a key supporting player rather than the star of the show,’ says Kyler.

However, programs that work for the Scripps Networks Interactive-owned channel still need to have a definite sense of place. Kyler says the connection to travel and world exploration must be organic in order for a program to resonate with an audience.

As for how the channel schedules its programming, Sundays feature the more immersive documentary fare or anthropological programs, such as Planet Earth, and by the time Thursday rolls around the programs are lighter and more escapist.

Evolution has been a key concern at the channel since it was acquired by Scripps Networks Interactive late last year. This month, Travel Channel announced the appointment of Laureen Ong, founding president of the National Geographic Channel who was most recently COO of Hong Kong-based Star Group Limited, as president. Beyond adding more entertainment programming to the roster, Travel Channel has also reduced its median age from 53 to 43 with a slightly male skew. Kyler’s advice to producers is to watch the channel, think young and think about what works in primetime rather than what has been aired on the channel in the past.

‘People tend to define travel in a certain way; they put us into a particular box and we’re so much broader than that,’ says Kyler. ‘I open the door to pitches that people may not expect [us to].’

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