Travel Channel Analysis - December 2010

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DECEMBER 2010 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:

* Bold denotes programming change

SCHEDULING STRATEGIES:

The schedule is built around a handful of key series at 9pm or 10pm, complemented by repeats of the same on the same night.  Monday features ANTHONY BOURDAIN and ANDREW ZIMMERN BIZARRE FOODS.  Wednesday is MAN VS FOOD, and Friday is GHOST ADVENTURES.  The remaining nights feature an occasional series such as 101 TASTIEST PLACES TO CHOW DOWN or SAMANTHA BROWN, but the overwhelming majority of the timeslots are filled with single hour programs.  Thematic stacks and diverse topics, premieres and repeats, they're all mixed throughout the one up portion of the schedule.  It remains one of the few non-fiction based network schedules with a large number of one up programs in basic cable.

DECEMBER 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:

Live Primetime Ratings Comparison /December 2010 vs December 2009  (% Change)

HH

A18-49

A25-54

Monday 8-11pm

0%

-7%

0%

Tuesday 8-11pm

10%

-6%

0%

Wednesday 8-11pm

-31%

-44%

-31%

Thursday 8-11pm

7%

27%

11%

Friday 8-11pm

-3%

-7%

-10%

Saturday 8-11pm

12%

46%

40%

Sunday 8-11pm

7%

33%

22%

MTWTFSS 8-11pm

0%

-5%

0%

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

Year end numbers are in and the topline story is good.  2010 is up roughly 5% in the key Adult 25-54 demo, and 6% for A18-49.  Most of the increase stems from peaks during the summer months.  There was a visible dip in 2Q driven by the rough months of April and May.  More recent, 4th Quarter was flat versus last year.  Coming out of a rising summer, that could be a concern heading into 2011.  The schedule has been driven by two series, MAN VS FOOD and GHOST ADVENTURES.  A sustained fade on either one could have a significant impact.  Output from the new channel management should begin to come to fruition early this year.  One or two solid series will be enough to keep the growth curve heading up.

Moving to December, the month was flat to slightly down.  From above it's not a major issue.  Digging into the night by night analysis though, there could be some cracks in the armor.

Wednesdays bring the biggest concern.  Night is down 31% in the demo from last year and it's all MAN VS FOOD.  The network's signature series was off almost 30% versus the same period last year.  Premieres are no longer standing out from the pack.  Repeats seem to be holding up well.  The series and the night are still some of the strongest on the schedule but the caution light is out.

Friday was also down.  The network's other signature series, GHOST ADVENTURES, is down 23% from last year.  Premiere episodes are still a hit.  It's the repeats that are fading.  In addition, last year repeat episodes of MAN VS FOOD propped up Friday, giving GHOST a solid lead-in.  This year, GHOST ADVENTURES was on it's own and just couldn't keep up.

On the other side, Sunday night was over 20% in A25-54, and greater than 30% in the younger demos.  Credit a couple of specials on Sturgis one week and magician David Blaine another.  Even repeats of STURGIS stood out elsewhere in the month.  Too bad they can't turn these specials into series.  Or maybe that's already in the works.  Stayed tuned.

Our resident food guys were split with BOURDAIN up from last year and ZIMMERN down.  The latter has largely disappeared from the schedule for now.  A new series, FOOD PARADISES, came out of the gate well below average.  And that was with a MAN VS FOOD lead on Wednesdays.

MYSTERIES OF THE MUSEUM's sophomore month brought increases for A25-54 overall.  Premieres remain solid, repeats show a measurable drop.  WHEN VACATIONS ATTACK was off 16% from it's debut month in November.  Weekend airings on Saturday/Sunday are doing well.  Midweek repeats are suffering.

BERT THE CONQUEROR came back for a Sunday night stack in midmonth.  Not sure why.  The series struggled when it premiered.  It landed in the bottom spot for the month, losing audience steadily as the night went on.  Wouldn't expect BERT to be making another appearance in prime time for a long time.

CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:

The network could use some fresh titles and a little diversity.  A couple of anchor series are carrying the current schedule and that can't last much longer.  From where we sit, we're not seeing a whole lot on the near horizon right now.  In the last year, the network has become almost all food all the time.  At least that's the perception created with all of the food series dominating the channel headlines.  As part of the Scripps family, it's likely the channel will seek out concepts that embrace travel without food at the center.  Scripps already has two networks devoted to the genre and they probably weren't looking to buy another one.

They see Travel as Lifestyle, consistent with their current network offerings.  While some of that is classic PR spin, there's a lot of truth to it. We also expect that they'll go towards more series and less one-offs consistent with most Scripps nets.

On the subject of travel, Travel Channel IS the category.  Other networks may have it as a subcategory, or as a component of a series, but here, it's the core of most everything they do.  No other network directly competes with them, but rather, nibbles around the edges of some of their genre and certainly audience.

They tend to quote three Key Points for what the channel takes into consideration when evaluating any idea:

- Lust for life - Immersion and exploration -  Credible authorship

Lately, an accompanying internet component is not only necessary, it is deemed MANDATORY!  Take a look at their website:  you almost have to hunt for the TV part.

KEEP THIS IN MIND:

Programs usually need a host¦make sure they have "a lust for life" and are "credible and IMPASSIONED INSIDERS" (their emphasis).  Programs should be "immersive" (literally defined as "a 3D image that seems to surround the viewer").   "What is the driving force?  What is the story arc?  What is the holy shit factor?"  BTW, good direction for any idea! "INSIDER" SERIES; ANTHROPOLOGY; ARCHAEOLOGY; ARCHITECTURE get $140-200k/hour.

Stay away from stories that are too personal(translation: vacation videos); overly formatted series; gimmicks;  competition programs; serialized formats and programs;  talent that's mere talent ("all hair and teeth") and not credible; docusoaps and pure reality shows.

What Travel does want is "sticky" take-away information; authentic travel experiences;  programs that transport the viewer;  visually appealing images; self-contained episodes (see: no serials); multi-platform opportunities (see: internet); articulate, knowledgeable talent.  And getting younger men is a part of all of this. They're now advertising an HD feed, so it wouldn't hurt to consider what makes a good HD travel show either.

And don't forget the website as a jumping off point for ideas - it plays to a younger audience, and has a retail connection (tools, trips, etc.).  Travel needs your mind on that as you submit program ideas.

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