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Travel Channel PitchesTurnaround Story

As it heads into its fourth upfront under Scripps Networks Interactive ownership, Travel Channel is pitching the message that it’s finally turning things around.

While primetime ratings declined 5% in the key adults 25-54 demo in 2012 (down from another 5% dip in 2011), Travel began seeing ratings improve in the third quarter with successful launches such as Hotel Impossible, Baggage Battles and Airport 24/7: Miami. In the fourth quarter, 25-54 demo ratings grew 8%, contributing to six consecutive months of year-over-year gains. And in the first six weeks of 2013, Travel is posting its best ratings period since Scripps acquired the network in 2009, up 23% in January.

“Starting with third quarter and the Olympics, it was really the signaling point where we started seeing some nice momentum and gains for the balance of the year and pushing us right into 2013,” says Travel Channel president Laureen Ong.

In 2013, Travel will have more returning series (the network renewed eight last month) and at least 23 new shows, more than ever. One new entry in development is Travel’s take on a competition show, called Taking It to the Street, where three judges travel to different cities to find the best street artists and award one a $10,000 prize. Street joins previously announced new series Armed and Ready with Kevin Michael Connolly, Burger Land, Gem Hunt, Tailgate Takeover with Adam Richman and Rock My RV with Bret Michaels.

While the network lost Anthony Bourdain to CNN last year, it believes it is building a new stable of talent with hosts such as Richman, Andrew Zimmern, Don Wildman and Todd Carmichael. Bourdain’s series, The Layover, is being rethought and will return later this year with a new host to be announced. Travel is also developing a new vehicle for Samantha Brown, who was a staple on the network for 10 years and is returning from maternity leave. “We’re refashioning her out of the travelogue space into something that’s going to be a lot more exciting,” Ong says.

Shifting away from the travelogues that used to dominate the channel continues to be a priority in 2013, because as Ong says, “People want now to go on a trip with a traveler, not a tourist.”

As such, Travel made changes to Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern (which premiered its seventh season on Feb. 11) to emphasize the host’s interaction with people when he travels, footage that used to end up on the cutting-room floor. That same people focus will be used for the second season of Dangerous Grounds with Carmichael.

The network will also put more marketing behind Mysteries at the Museum hosted by Wildman, which has been a sleeper hit as its Thursday-night anchor. The net also greenlit a companion show hosted by Wildman called Monumental Mysteries, to air out of Museum as part of a strategy to make programming more compatible.

“It used to be if you came to the network and liked one of our shows, it’s not guaranteed that you’d like the rest of the week,” Ong says. “We’ve worked very hard at making the shows compatible to each other so that the "ow, whether it’s through the night or night to night, is there for us.”

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