NB: This is a guest article by¬†Kerrin Sheldon, co-founder of Humanity.TV.
The Travel Channel is one of the major brands facing an unknown fate of late, so perhaps now is a good time to reflect on the state of travel shows and the one channel that has truly held the travel name.
Background: with the passing of¬†Robert P Scripps¬†and the subsequent dissolution of the Edward W Scripps Trust, the programming future of Scripps Networks Interactive, which owns HGTV, The Food Network, and The Travel Channel,¬†is looking quite uncertain.
So let me be frank: the traditional travel show, a 30-60 minute block featuring a host in front of a major travel destination, is dying. And frankly, I say good riddance.
Like any industry or organization that is unable to change with the times, the travel show’s two-decade stagnation of innovation is now reserved for those born before 1965.
While a few good hosts (Anthony Bourdain, in particular) were captivating to watch and seemed to resurrect the format, it only prolonged the slow, boring death of host-lead programming. Instead of realizing this, The Travel Channel, whose web and tablet experience consists of “Behind The Scenes Footage!” have instead put their faith ever deeper in the ever-powerful Host.
The result has been messy (literally), with shows becoming more outrageous and more unauthentic than the last.¬†They seem to think that travel is about¬†stuffing your face¬†with as much food as possible or searching for¬†dead souls in West Virginia¬†(I wish I was making this up).
One major problem with host-lead shows, and a lesson that travel bloggers and amateur travel filmmakers should take note of, is that the show relies on the personality of the host. If viewers connect with the host (as they did with Bourdain’s snarky, but often deep, musings) the show succeeds.
If they do not, the show fails. You make think you’re incredibly interesting and deep, but you might want to get a second opinion (moms don’t count).
With Discovery¬†and National Geographic embedded in their successful turn to reality-based offerings (Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, Mythbusters), the travel show is out in the ether, trying to find its way.
But that’s because the travel show as we’ve known it will soon no longer exist. Emerging technologies, a turn towards more authentic travel, and new ways of experiencing the world around us will change the travel show (thank goodness).
1. Travel shows will meld with other industries
One trend in filmmaking that I’m most excited about is the interactive documentary feature, where filmmaking combines with new, emerging technologies to showcase an immersive experience. Interactive documentaries, usually shown on the web, often feature historical documents, archival footage, historical photographs, and more to give the viewer control over the path they want to choose through the story.
Watching a documentary about the Civil War? Then pull up the Gettysburg Address and read along. Or view and read old letters from Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain as he leads his bayonet charge down Little Round Top. For an example, check out this excellent online interactive documentary about the current state of Chile, as told through short scenes of the country:¬†MAFI.tv.
The opportunities for travel shows to harness the power of this new form of storytelling is great, with interactive maps, photo essays, and soundbites playing a large role.
A travel show, unlike travel, is often a very passive experience. The ability for content creators to team up with designers and developers to make travel shows more like travel is limitless – immersive, educational, enlightening, and fun.
We believe an immersive tablet experience is the new location for the travel show, and the main reason we’re trying to make that happen. With our own authentic documentary shorts as the centerpiece, we envision a one-of-a-kind tablet magazine that uses interactive maps, interview soundbites, historical photo essays, and cultural and language tidbits to give the viewer a total and immersive experience in a destination.
Travel is more than seeing the sights – it’s learning the language, meeting the people, hearing the sounds, and immersing yourself in the history and culture. That’s what I’m most excited about in the future of travel shows, and that’s what we¬†hope to accomplish.¬†
2. Existing brands will use shows and videos as a complement to existing products
Travel shows have long been a standalone feature, a 30-60 minute block of television time that viewers watched at its regularly scheduled time.
Much of this has already changed, due to internet viewership’s continuous rise, but as viewers turn more to their tablet devices and the web to read their favorite magazines, view their favorite photographs, and follow their favorite travel brands, brands will find new ways to incorporate travel shows into these outlets.
In an op-ed in¬†The Economist¬†earlier this year, National Geographic’s Declan Moore expounded on the importance of short-form video to enhance their already award-winning editorial and photographic offerings:
“Video on the tablet can be intimate and enriching‚ÄĒthe ultimate lean-back complement to an article, helping to transport a reader to another time and place. This kind of visual storytelling is deeply associated with our brand and is resonating with new audiences.”
“This ability to breathe life into what once was a static page is a key differentiator of the iPad experience and one not to overlook.”
Here is the example of a video that accompanied a National Geographic article in its iPad magazine:
As tablets and mobile devices continue to become more powerful, video will play an ever larger role in enhancing travel brands’ existing products and offerings – and with it, the morphing of the travel show.
3. More travel videos will be from brand’s trying to reach a new audience
Travel shows have often been created as complete packages: sets of 22 episodes at an hour apiece spread across the year made by someone like The Travel Channel or Discovery.
But, travel is a universal idea – something that everyone understands and often aspires to. The blessing and the curse of the travel industry is that it is so universally understood, there are very few companies, brands, and products that can’t use it in some way to push their own message.
Road trip? Buy a Honda. Going to NYC with your friends? Drink Budweiser. Backpacking around Southeast Asia? Buy some Chacos.
As a result, more and more brands are using the best parts of travel (inspiration, learning, enlightenment) to market their brands.
Brands understand that when people daydream, it may not be about Stride Gum or Nike Armbands, but probably dancing with people around the world or taking off on an around the world trip – both approaches taken by the aforementioned brands.
Often, some of the greatest innovations come from outside of the field, and in this way, brands like Nike or Land Rover view travel videos a little differently than those who are embedded in the industry every day. Look for this to create some truly memorable viewing experiences. Check out Nike’s #MakeItCount:
4. The power of storytelling will be given to the people
The onset of the web and video sites like Youtube and Vimeo have created platforms for amateur videographers to make their own travel shows. And with the ever-plummeting costs of HD technology and DSLR cameras, the amateur videographer can now produce their own travel show at a fraction of the cost of even a decade ago.
The result has been a lot of great work and boundary-pushing content, especially on sites like Vimeo. But there has also been an incredible influx of horrible content, and sifting through the dirt to find the gold often proves impossible.
But a new trend in storytelling is emerging: community-created content that is then curated and edited to showcase the finest moments.
This is another innovative direction that stems from the interactive documentary field. It goes like this: get cameras to the people who know the history, culture, and story best: the locals.
Have them film their lives. Have them share their story.¬†Have them share their feelings on their own culture and life.
Then, once the story is truly told, the production team can take the footage and curate it for their audience. The result is a much more personal, authentic viewing experience that still holds the needed amount of production quality.
Too often, travel shows are centered around the host and their experience in a place. But what travel should really be about, and the way I would love travel shows to go, is the people you meet and what makes their lives different than yours.
That is what makes travel enlightening and educational and that is what a travel show should showcase. By giving the power of the story to those who live it every day, a new, authentic travel show can emerge.
NB:¬†This is a guest article by¬†Kerrin Sheldon, co-founder of¬†Humanity.TV.
NB2: Camera image from Shutterstock