ƒ Curious Travelers Television: The Travel TV Programmer's Dilemma

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Travel TV Programmer's Dilemma

The Discovery Travel Channel has shifted their programming criteria and I'll explain why (or why I think why?).

Really it goes to the root of why people watch travel programming and why some travel programs do better in the rating than others.

First of all, most of the people who watch travel programs don't really travel or don't travel much. They certainly don't go on treks into the Himalayas or visit exotic locations such as New Guinea or even New Zealand. Rather they are armchair travelers.

Consider the statistics:

Only 18 percent of Americans have passports: That means if Americans travel they mostly travel domestically, which is basically travel to Las Vegas, to Disneyland or the National Parks.

The average American only gets two weeks vacation a year: Most prefer to stay at home during those two weeks. Two weeks vacation time is very little by the way compared to the rest of the developed world. By law most European countries require four, even six weeks of vacation.

Travel is an age specific activity:
Most people travel when they are just out of college, age 22-25 and for Americans that means the European tour, staying at Youth Hostels, moving around with European train Passes. There are travel guidebooks such as Let's Go and Lonely Planet (although less so now) totally devoted to that demographic and the excellent travel program Globe Trekker (formerly Lonely Planet) target that market.

The other travel demographic is 65-70, right after retirement and that usually means travel in groups, as there are health issues. This group is catching up on what they missed during their work years, when they had to face the time consuming responsibilities of raising a family. Travel guidebooks such as Fodor's and Frommer's deal with this demographic, as well as Rudy Maxx's Savvy Traveler and Rick Steves' Backdoor to Europe.

In the 25-65 demographics travel usually means going on domestic trips with the kids or, for the younger couples demographic, fun in the sun on a one week cruise or at a all inclusive resort such as Sandals. This demographic by the way is the Discovery Travel Channel demographic, basically people who don't travel but they do take vacations, and advertisers that sell these type of vacations make up a certain percentage of the commercials. The majority of the commercials are non travel products, such as insurance, credit card companies, motion picture, drug companies, package goods, etc.

So this is the central dilemma for programming in the Travel Channel. Most of your audience doesn't really travel and does not care about getting information about travel but a certain percentage does want this information. What do you do? Enter VOD (video on demand), to the rescue, so you can have it both ways, and appeal to the traveler and non-traveler alike.