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Travel Channel Chief Checks Out

As the Travel Channel continues on its road trip, the channel's top executive is getting off the bus. Executive Vice President and General Manager Steve Cheskin is leaving the Discovery Networks'-owned channel after 18 years with the company, three heading the network. His contract was set to expire soon.

Cheskin's departure should usher in some changes for Travel under the tutelage of Discovery Networks U.S. President Billy Campbell.

Going forward, Campbell wants to liven up Travel. Clearly, nothing on Travel right now matches the recognition of TLC's Trading Spaces
or Discovery Channel's Monster Garage.
"I want to give viewers more opportunity to say they have to go [to Travel]."

He also envisions Discovery ad sales chief Joe Abruzzese's crafting more partnerships for advertisers in Travel shows, presumably like a recent deal with Holland America cruise line that included sponsoring Travel's Beach Week 2003.

In its seven years as a Discovery-owned net, Travel's distribution has soared almost 300% to 71 million homes. But plenty of seats are available. Travel ranks in the bottom half of cable Nielsens, routinely registering a 0.3 or 0.4 rating in prime time.

No doubt, Travel has been hard hit in the past year by world events and the sour economy. When ratings dropped after 9/11,"we sat back at the beginning and said, 'It's going to come back,'" Cheskin recalls.

When viewers didn't, Travel started introducing more entertaining fare, like its Road Trip
series, which included visits to famous movie locales and the best amusement parks. But some shows seem a little off-brand, like The World Poker Tour, which happens to bring in some of Travel's best Nielsen marks.

Cheskin says he's leaving without any regrets. "Even in our darkest days, ratings were still 50% better than when I walked in the door." He plans to take some time off.

Discovery Networks has weathered a string of executive departures in recent years. Former top programmer John Ford left in February. In March 2002, former Discovery President Johnathan Rodgers jumped ship.

At the network level, several executives have left in the last two years: TLC General Manager Jana Bennett; husband-and-wife team Michael Quattrone, head of the Discovery Channel, and Kathy Quattrone, general manager of Discovery Health; and Charley Humbard, head of digital networks.

Discovery says a search is already under way for a new Travel chief but would not name any contenders.