By Kristin Brzoznowski
Published: May 14, 2014
Shannon O’Neill, the president of Travel Channel, talks about the “explorers,” “experts” and “experiencers” that form the backbone of the network’s programming mix.
The travel category covers a wide swath of lifestyle subgenres, and as such, Travel Channel features a diverse collection of programming. However, all its shows have a common thread: a human connection.
Shannon O’Neill, the president of Travel Channel, explains that the portfolio can be broken down into three categories: explorers, experts and experiencers. He lists Dangerous Grounds with Todd Carmichael in the “explorers” category. Hotel Impossible with Anthony Melchiorri falls within the “experts” category. “Experiencers” includes Trip Flip with Bert Kreischer and Man Finds Food with Adam Richman.
“We also have a number of shows—and this often happens as they develop and become more successful—that actually hit all three [categories],” says O’Neill. “A great example of that is Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. He is absolutely an expert in food, he’s an authentic explorer, and his show is all about experiencing the world and experiencing new cultures and new people. That hits on all three, and not surprisingly it’s one of our most successful shows.”
O’Neill says that since travel is a very broad category, there’s a lot of room to experiment with creating compelling travel-based original programming. “The only parameters that we put on our programmers is that everything we do should have three things: a passion and respect for travel; a curiosity for exploring the world; and, this is really the most important thing, a desire for that human connection and understanding.”
There are a number of new Travel Channel shows that follow these guidelines. Among the highlights isResort Rescue with Shane Green, part of the “experts” category. “It is a great complement to our existing successful show Hotel Impossible,” says O’Neill. “Shane is an authentic hospitality expert; he has a company that turns around both big and small resorts. He’s a great new personality and all of that comes across on screen, so we’re very excited about that.”
In the “experiencers” space, there’s Booze Traveler with Jack Maxwell. “If you know Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Andrew’s vehicle to understanding new people and cultures is through the food they eat; Jack’s vehicle is through the alcohol that they drink. He travels the world meeting unique people and cultures, and as he will say in the show, the best way to get to know someone is often over a good cocktail.”
In the “explorers” vein, Big Crazy Family Adventure follows the Kirkby family as they trek from Vancouver to the Himalayas. “They are truly a compelling, engaging, fun family and the kind of family that I think America could really fall in love with,” says O’Neill.
A key ingredient to Travel Channel shows past and present is the characters at the center of them. O’Neill says that while the format of a series is always important, the talent and hosts are really a core element. “We talk a lot about our talent and our hosts as trusted guides and really being authentic travel experts that our viewers trust and look to for inspiration on how to either plan their own travel or to travel vicariously through the TV.”
O’Neill says that viewers tend to come to the network for inspiration. “We often see this inspiration-to-activation funnel, where someone is watching, say, Bert Kreischer on Trip Flip on Travel Channel and they’re inspired to travel to Hawaii and do some of the experiences that Bert did while he was there. Also, our viewers are travelers, and when they come back from a trip, they’re the type of people that want to share their experiences with their friends. We refer to them as ‘influencers.’”
Travel Channel is dedicated to giving these “influencers” as many outlets as possible for connecting with the brand as well. “We’re very active [in the digital space],” O’Neill says. “We produce a lot of high-quality digital video, including the nine new original series that we recently announced and four renewed series. That content is distributed in multiple places: on TravelChannel.com, and we have two apps, our Watch Travel Channel app, which is our TV Everywhere app, and our Travel Channel Cities app, which is a great utility for travel planning. We also push that video content across the Scripps ulive platform. It’s both a portal and a syndicated network, so we’re able to reach a lot of viewers and consumers that way. We also partner with Hulu, iTunes and YouTube to push out our content and engage with our viewers. Finally, we also do a lot of two-way communication with our viewers and our fans through social media with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.”
He adds, “We consider ourselves to be an authority in travel, so everywhere there are people who are passionate about travel, we want to be there. We want to be the video provider, the content provider, the authentic travel source.”
O’Neill outlines three goals that Travel Channel has for continuing to bolster the channel and its brand. The first is to build and iterate off of the success of its proven shows. Second is to introduce new explorers, new experts, new experiencers and, in general, new talent and trusted hosts for the network. “We then want to use those first two points to expand and engage with our audience,” O’Neill says.