The Sorry State of the Travel Channel

Posted: August 30, 2011    Categories: Commentary

Given the amount of traveling I do I don’t have many opportunities to watch television. When I am back in the US I use Hulu and Netflix to catch up on some of my favorite shows as well as watch some of my favorite channels. In addition to the Discovery Channel and the History channel one channel I used to watch extensively before I started traveling was of course the Travel Channel. The Travel Channel was one of the ways I got my travel fix before I hit the road. When I’ve tuned in to the Travel Channel this month things were different.

It is hard to describe how disappointed I’ve become in the Travel Channel.

Outside of Anthony Bourdain, who is really a food guy when you get right down to it, Travel Channel basically has nothing to do with travel anymore. Take a look at some of their current shows:

No Reservations: I have no beef with Tony Bourdain or his show. I like him and it is a good show and there is nothing inherently wrong with having a food themed travel show. Bourdain is far and away the face of the travel channel now. A full two nights a week of prime time are devoted to his show (6 out of 21 hours of programming) and you will find it throughout the course of the day as well. What I don’t get is that the lesson they seem to have taken from No Reservations is to create more food shows, not more shows showing interesting people traveling. Travel being the raison d’être for the entire network of course. This is the ONLY show in their current prime time line up which I’d consider legitimate travel programing. You’d think they’d try to replicate the success of this show, but the seems hell bent on following the best practices of reality TV found on other channels.

Man v Food: WTF does overeating have to do with travel??? Oh, he overeats in a different city each episode. I get it……Not. A full 5 hours of prime time are devoted to reruns of of this show. I have no idea why eating 10 pounds of ice cream is supposed to inspire someone to travel. This isn’t even good food programing. This is to food television what a snuff film is to pornography.

Truck Stop Missouri: This is their new show they recently launched. Again, what does this have to do with travel? I get that if you travel you might stop at a truck stop, but filming at one location is the anthesis of travel. Moreover, a show about truckers is more about transportation than travel. It makes about as much sense as putting a show about auto mechanics on the Travel Channel. This seems to be an attempt to rip off the success of programs like Pawn Stars and other programs that just watch people working. If you want to put a travel spin on this, why not follow flight attendants or pilots? Why not shoot a show showing how a hotel operates behind the scenes?

Sand Masters: This is a show about people who make sand sculptures. It has nothing to do with travel other than it happens to be filmed on a beach.

Ghost Adventures: Huh?

Paranormal Challenge: See above

That is just what is appearing this week. Some of their other shows which are in rerun status don’t fare much better:

Samantha Brown: You don’t see much Samantha Brown anymore on the Travel Channel. I have no idea why as she was one of the most recognized names which the network produced. Somehow she got lost in the Anthony Bourdain lovefest which the network seems to be engaged in. She’s just an actress who auditioned for the role on a travel show, but at least it was a travel show. Her shows are one of the only things I can think of that the network has produced that is legitimately about travel and isn’t centered around food.

The Wild Within: Bear Grylls is popular? We need us a survival show too!

Bizarre Foods: Again with the food thing. At least Andrew Zimmern travels and he attempted to start a new series that wasn’t food related: Bizarre World. However, after one season they axed Bizarre World and they brought the food show back for 2011, once again cementing the Travel Channel as the Food Network-lite.

Triple Rush: A show about bike messengers. “Bike messengers travel from office to office. That’s close enough!”

Deathwish Movers: This is a show the Travel Channel launched that follows guys who move things like pianos into tall apartment buildings. I’m not kidding.

Confessions of a Travel Writer: Remember this train wreck of a pilot from 2 years ago? They couldn’t even get a show that was squarely about travel right. I find it hard to believe someone actually watched this before they put it on air.

Bridget’s Sexiest Beaches: Chesty McBoomBoom’s Bridget’s Favorite Beaches was the Travel Channel showing they could fuck up going to the beach.

Beside the fact that whoever is responsible for programing at the Travel Channel should be summarily fired, their business strategy makes about as much sense as their programming strategy.

They recently purchased, which is a hotel review site which has “real” photos of the hotels you visit. The theory being that if the Travel Channel is inspiring people to travel, they should get a cut when people book rooms. It is an interesting theory which might make sense……if they were actually inspiring anyone to travel. Shows about eating contests, paranormal investigations and greasy spoon truck stops is hardly the sort of programming which makes people want to go on vacation. They certainly aren’t going to think of you when going to book a hotel room.

Several years ago they purchased which is one of the best travel writing sites on the internet. What did they do with this amazing asset? Did they integrate it into their website or promote it on TV? Nope. They basically killed it and currently the founders of World Hum are trying to keep it afloat without any real assistance from the part of the Travel Channel. You’d THINK that a great online property like this MIGHT help with their new acquisition, but hey what do I know.

Remember those commercials for the Travel Channel Academy? They got hundreds of people to pay money to learn how to create travel videos so they could use it on online as well as on TV. After the company was sold, they quickly axed the program. What I find really funny about it is that it would have fit really well with if you had an army of people getting video from hotels and other destinations. It also killed one of the strongest ties the channel had to the community….not that they seem to care about community building.

The thing is, I’m sure somewhere in the Travel Channel offices there are bean counters who can justify every decision to run every show regardless how little it has to do with travel. When the Travel Channel was last sold it went for over a billion dollars.

The problem is, no matter how much each individual decision can be justified, every paranormal investigation show takes them one step further away from their core and what makes them unique. The travel channel is now just another cable channel that just happens to have Anthony Borudain. Without their travel focus, investments like make no sense and they will keep losing their loyal audience base.

If they can’t get back to their travel roots then they should be upfront and honest about it and just change their name to the Paranormal Food Network.

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