5 years ago

Travel video rules: The future of travel shows and content

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).

Here’s how:

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—the 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.”

Moore concludes:

“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.

Summing up

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

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A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries.



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  1. Lisa | LLworldtour

    Interesting post. As a TV producer from ‘traditional’ broadcast journalism and teacher of TV production, who is now also a travel blogger and video consultant, I think there are two sides. Talent (good talent) that viewers connect with (from yesterday’s big-paid hosts to today’s blog personalities) is always important for ratings and thus advertising. Many of our loyal viewers at ABC tuned in to see their favorite sportscaster, etc.

    BUT that being said, the best journalists know and what I always teach is that the story should really not be about the talent, but about the real people/the ‘characters’ telling the story through their emotions, their soundbites, etc. We connect with ‘real’ people that we can feel for and empathize with. The reporter or host should just be a medium through which the story is told.

  2. Pat Younge

    I think a fair analysis of the trends facing all content channels, what’s interesting is the number of former niche brands – history, A&E, Discovery – all trying to play in the general entertainment space. True, they’re getting ratings but they risk destroying the premium they received to niche specialism, and could end up just slugging it out with the broadcast nets and general entertainment channels.

    Travel Channels challenged in this new environment, but it hasn’t always been on the back foot. In 2006 it was the first network to cast participants for a series via the web and let the web community directly inluence the narrative of a series shot and delivered on a 7 day turn around….. It was called 5 Takes http://vimeo.com/29175367

    It then took the learning one step further, and created an Academy to train ‘travel passionates’ in short om film making. It was called The Travel Channel Academy. http://www.travel-writers-exchange.com/2009/01/interview-lisa-lambden-travel-channel-academy/

    Out of the Academy came Alison Otto, a rookie filmmaker who trained on well and was employed by the network to make a series on Americas Bizarre Roadside Attractions – her idea. http://www.travelchannel.com/video/roadside-attraction-museums

    Now it seems she’s employed (at least recently) by the netork as her small idea morphed into a bigger idea.

    That the future for travel – TV entertainment series coupled with quality, well curated, prosumer short form content whichis optimised for social media and sharing IMHO

  3. Jazz Poulin

    Totally agree with you Kerrin! I saw this coming years ago and decided to film a travel show pilot in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico….put it up online and see what happens.

    Well I now have 100% proof that travel shows like this can lead to sales. Myself and Steph have had countless people write, meet in person, us saying that they travelled to Playa because they watched this show. Now I hadn’t built a booking mechanism to profit from this which is why I didn’t film more shows but I did speak with Expedia and the GM at Scipps and they passed (as did WestJet, AirCanada Vacations, many Caribbean Tourism Boards etc..)

    Most brands aren’t ready to take that leap yet…invest into online, high quality shows. Too bad because they can actually attract new clients!


    • Greg Hung

      I wouldn’t write off hosted travel shows. I would agree that technology has brought down barriers for a larger amount of people to create travel content. With HD video included in SLR’s since 2010 and video hosting websites like vimeo and youtube this created am environment for some great travel content such as music video timelapses, music travel videos, and shows such as your humanity.tv series. I think it is an awesome period to see all the different types of travel content we will get going forward.

      I also agree that the downside is that it becomes harder to find the good stuff, but that is the problem that http://lifestyletravel.tv intends to solve.

      Jazz I saw your pilot video

      Good work. This is one of higher production travel shows that I’ve seen and think this is an example where a co-hosted show filmed in an authentic story format works. I like your videography, the format, and both your and the lady friend have good chemistry on the camera. I found this more interesting than the departure series. I’m going to feature this on lifestyletravel.tv

      Please get in touch with me through http://chicvoyagegroup.com. I would be interested in partnering for future opportunities.

  4. Bruce Murray

    I think you are saying that Travel Channel was once successful and is no longer? I can’t remember any point in time when Travel Channel did well in the ratings. HGTV and Food have always done much better for Scripps.
    For Travel Channel to make money they will need to dramatically reduce the cost of programming, just like other cable networks have done. This means doing things like dropping expensive hosts like Bourdain. Especailly when it appears he wouldn’t accept new methods of content monitization.
    I think we will see more and more reality based programs like the new NFL product. They are cheap and shot domestically.
    It will be interesting to see what happens with Samantha Browns new programs. NFL football players or Samanta Brown…??? I think I know who wins….
    It also appears that you are discounting the Bilions of Dollars held by Baby Boomers born before 1965. They travel more and have more money than younger populations. You might want to think about following the money….

  5. Jeremy Head

    I’m really not convinced by this. It’s easy to write off the presenter-led format, but I was wondering if you’d heard of Michael Palin or Simon Reeve for a start? Or how about Dom Joly? This whole web 2.0 now the people are in control blah has been punted around for way to long now. Time to change the record.
    Additionally there are stacks of shows that could be deemed to be ‘travel’ but which typically also feature other elements like say history, geography etc. Bettany Hughes does some great historical travel stuff for the BBC, even Top Gear veers into this territory from time to time. These are all presenter-led formats. Kate Humble and and Prof Iain Stewart are other names that spring to mind.
    I personally think there should be room in the schedules for more stuff like this and it’s more to do with lame exec producers going for the same old stuff (X factor, Strictly come whatever etc) or trying to be ‘clever’ and look for a new angle just to prove how smart they are.
    I’d love to see the very excellent Ian Wright who has fronted shows on the Travel Channel for years get another stab at mainstream – I think he is just great. A great presenter like say Ian or Palin absolutely does give real people voices – they bond with them, chat to them and help the viewer see the world through these peoples’ eyes just as much as their own. A good presenter is not for a moment all about ‘me, me’ me’ – indeed in some ways their role is to fade into the background from time to time and let the location and the people there be stars of the show.

    • Kerrin

      Jeremy – I think you’ve hit on a few good points that are definitely true. The first is that the host-lead format will survive and exist in some way. I agree that it does (even if I don’t particularly enjoy it). But where I think the problem sits is the idea that you can keep hammering away at this format and expect a new, and very different, audience to enjoy it.

      Many of the traditional brands are porting their content over from older mediums (TV and print) and calling it new and fresh – which just isn’t the case. You watch an interactive documentary like Bear71 (http://bear71.nfb.ca/#/bear71), the tale of a Grizzly Bear in Banff National Park, and the possibilities of a travel site/app/mag in this interactive feature becomes increasingly more exciting.

      The second point is tat other non0travel shows are starting to crossover to more travel based programming. Which I completely agree with. Shows like “The Deadliest Catch” may not be a travel show, but it does show what you can expect on a trip to the sea outside Alaska (do people go there?). Discovery and National Geographic have a host of these types of programs and while they’re not travel shows, I do see them as a part of the travel show feature.

  6. Rich Mastriani

    Very good points. People are interested in the culture not the person traveling.

    • Kerrin

      I definitely think that this is the case, especially for the upcoming generation of travelers – there is a big need (and desire) for authentic, short-form travel videos. Just depends on exactly how it is executed, because it can be done poorly.


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