Travel Channel is looking to re-create the hot ratings it
earned last year with "Beach Week," an annual programming stunt in the tradition
of sister service Discovery Channel's "Shark Week."
Fast-growing Travel -- which has been under Discovery
Communications Inc.'s wing for roughly two years -- has expanded the breadth of Beach
Week with the event's encore go-around this year. The second-annual Beach Week lineup
will include five specials, airing from March 5 through 11.
"Cable networks tend to leverage themselves on
events," Travel executive vice president and general manager Jay Feldman said.
"Shark Week is one of the premiere events in all of cable. When we bought Travel, we
looked at what we could do [for such an event]."
The Beach Week schedule kicks off March 5 at 8 p.m. with Bikini
Blast,a broadcast of the Ujena swimsuit contest in Cancun, Mexico. America's
Top Lifeguards premieres that night at 9 p.m. Travel Channel's Top Secret
Beaches, debuting March 6 at 9 p.m., is hosted by the network's chief
correspondent, Peter Greenberg, with Baywatch alumna Donna D'Errico and Mortal
Kombat actress Angelica Bridges as co-hosts.
Last year, Beach Week included a special on the
world's 10 best beaches. This year, Travel identifies America's Best Beaches,which premieres March 8 at 9 p.m.And in Exotic Islands, which debuts
March 11 at 2:30 p.m.,host Hunter Reno travels to some of the world's most
When DCI bought Travel, the network's demographics
skewed older, according to Feldman. It was unclear if that was just innate to Travel
because of its subject matter, or if the programming could be tweaked to draw younger
audiences to travel shows.
"We wondered if we went after younger topics in a more
youthful way, could we attract a younger audience?" he said.
As it turns out, last year's Beach Week scored for
Travel on two levels: It drew younger viewers, and it turned out to be a viable signature
event for the network.
Last year, for example, the network got an enormous amount
of consumer press coverage with its top 10 world beaches special, Feldman said. So this
year, Travel is once again turning to "Dr. Beach," beach guru Stephen
Leatherman, to this time pick out the best American beaches.
Apart from the press attention Beach Week got last year,
the programming stunt also proved to be a viewership success, earning Travel its
highest-rated week of specials in 1999.
The March timing is very calculated, as well. Travel wanted
to do Beach Week around the time of college spring break, and it wanted to air the stunt
during the bleak end of winter, when snow-weary Americans are longing for warm weather and
planning ahead to book summer beach homes, according to Feldman.
"We're the only people in America hoping for a
cold March," he quipped.
Travel is putting some powerful promotion behind Beach
Week, taking ads in the notorious Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, as well as in USA
Today and Entertainment Weekly.
Travel has been on a distribution roll since it was
acquired by DCI -- momentum that was helped along by cash launch fees paid to cable
operators. The network -- the fastest-growing ad-supported basic-cable channel last year
-- is now in 38 million homes. The service expects to be in more than 40 million homes by
Travel has undergone a programming overhaul that initially
lifted its ratings, although that growth seems to have slowed somewhat. Its primetime
ratings were flat last year, at a 0.2. And in January, its total-day and primetime ratings
were down. Primetime was down to a 0.23 this January from a 0.29 last January, according
to Nielsen Media Research data.
According to Feldman, Travel's ratings are suffering
by comparison because early last year, the channel enjoyed a great lift from its "J.
Peterman" ad campaign. Despite its slow start, Feldman expects Travel to close the
first quarter with its ratings up over that same period last year.
After Beach Week, Travel has two other programming events
slated that are totally opposite in terms of their subject matter, and that in some ways
sound more suitable for Discovery than Travel. The network has scheduled "Expedition
Night" for March 19 and the "World's Most Dangerous Sunday" for April
At the Television Critics Association tour in January,
Feldman described Expedition Night as "travel on steroids." It will feature
three back-to-back specials: The Land of Fear,in which photojournalist
David Adams heads across the Sahara with the nomadic Tuareg tribe; Gasherbrum: Ascent
on G2, where climber Christine Boskoff becomes the first woman to scale the peak in
Pakistan and survive; and Quest for the Cloud People, about anthropologist Jeff
Salz's trek into Peru.
The World's Most Dangerous Sunday lineup includes two
one-hour specials that follow Robert Young Pelton, author of The World's Most
Dangerous Places,into Afghanistan and the Philippines.
Feldman maintained that Beach Week, Expedition Night and
the World's Most Dangerous Sunday programming all fit Travel's mandate of
permitting its viewers to travel vicariously and connecting with its audience emotionally.
"We are heavily focused on storytelling," Feldman
said, "and we focus on a person's personal journey. That's a big difference
between us and Discovery Channel. We tell the story of a person in a place, and you
don't have to love travel to love that."
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