Travel Revamps Under Discovery Eye

Author:
Publish date:
Updated on

Under the mantle of Discovery Networks U.S., The Travel
Channel is producing more than 250 hours of new original programming for the upcoming
season, revamping its schedule and rolling out its first major consumer-ad campaign.

"The focus of our new programming will be in
primetime, where it can make the greatest impact," said Jay Feldman, general manager
and senior vice president of Travel.

For the 1998 through 1999 season, Discovery's goal is
to broaden Travel's programming, to try to capture the excitement of travel and to
offer a glimpse into other worldwide cultures, according to Feldman. Discovery acquired a
70 percent stake in Travel from Paxson Communications Corp. last year.

"We want to infuse the programming with that sense of
wonder, the surprise and discovery of travel," said Feldman, declining to specify
exactly how much Discovery is spending to produce the new programming.

"It will be tens of millions of dollars in the short
run," he added.

Even as it upgrades its programming, Travel next month will
unveil its first brand-image-ad campaign for consumers, which Feldman said will cost
several million dollars. In addition, the network is undergoing a redesign of its on-air
look that will debut toward the end of the second quarter.

Travel's programming strategy is threefold:

• To feature a broader range of programming;

• To add recognizable on-air personalities as hosts
and promote them -- like columnist Peter Greenberg on new series Travel Daily and
comic actor Meshach Taylor on the new Meshach's Hidden Caribbean; and

• To strip programming in primetime on weeknights.

"We are trying to make it easy to watch the network
and promote it," Feldman said. "And [stripping] builds habitual viewing."

In primetime, Travel has chosen "to focus on three
programs and put our resources into those shows," he added.

With the new lineup starting in the fourth quarter, Travel
Daily
will air at 8 p.m., followed by Amazing Destinations at 9 p.m. and Lonely
Planet
at 10 p.m. That same three-hour block will be repeated earlier and later the
same day, at 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. weekdays, Feldman said.

Travel is buying 140 hours of world-premiere series Travel
Daily
and 65 hours, including world-premiere episodes, of Amazing Destinations.
Travel has also licensed 39 hours of Lonely Planet and ordered 30 more hours,
Feldman said.

From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Travel will introduce an
original-programming anthology strip called "The Adventurers," which will
include new episodes of the series Adventure Bound. Some new shows on Travel's
schedule include Grand Hotels and Starlight Foundation specials.

Discovery is now in the process of trying to boost
Travel's distribution, which is at just under 20 million, according to Feldman.

At a recent presentation to Wall Street analysts in Denver,
Discovery Communications Inc. chairman John Hendricks said Discovery is in the process of
renegotiating Travel's carriage deals.

"The deals that we inherited are not attractive,"
Hendricks told analysts. "We are using the strength of our company and the promise of
investment in quality programming to convince our affiliates to redo those contracts. Many
were not fee-paying, and some that were fee-paying were not attractive."

But he noted that Discovery's commitment to invest in
quality programming for Travel "should enhance our ability to redo those
contracts."

Rifkin & Associates Inc. dropped Travel in some of its
systems during the past year because it didn't have a contract with the network at
that point, and it was channel-locked and looking to make room for other programming
services.

"I like the genre," said Suzanne Cyman,
Rifkin's vice president of programming and strategic planning. "I really wanted
to keep it. But we just saw that the quality at that point wasn't there."

But Rifkin is doing system upgrades, and it will have more
channel openings soon. Cyman said she might give the revamped Travel another look, but, at
this point, Rifkin "will sit back and wait."

Charter Communications Inc. does carry Travel on some of
its systems, and it has high hopes about the imprint that Discovery will make on Travel.

"Discovery has a wonderful track record," said
Patty McCaskill, Charter's vice president of programming. "We're very
interested in what they're doing."

Travel is taking suggestions from its affiliates to heart
by offering regional U.S. travel shows. Starting in the third quarter, from noon to 3
p.m., a block called "Getaway USA" will air shows on the Northeast, Southeast,
mid-Atlantic and other regions at set times.

Since DCI acquired its stake in Travel in December, the
network's delivery of adults 25 to 54 years old is up 60 percent, according to
Feldman.

Related