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Pilot Week Pays Off at Travel

Jan 27, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The Travel Channel is booking another pilot week after picking up seven of the nine shows it premiered during its inaugural pilot week in December.
In an unusual move, Travel Channel put its pilots on the air, allowing them to be measured by Nielsen Media Research on a minute-by-minute basis and commented on by viewers using a feedback area on its Web site. Another batch of pilots is being developed now and should go on air early in the second quarter.
Travel Channel got about 5,000 responses to its survey, a big number considering pilot week was just days before the Christmas holiday.
“We were really pleased,” said Michael Klein, VP of content for the Travel Channel. “We saw that a lot of viral communities picked it up and people started engaging very early on.”
Travel Channel last year was sold to Cox Communications by Discovery as part of a deal that valued the network at $800 million.
The network is also getting ready for life without the World Poker Tour, which is moving to GSN.
In the fourth quarter, Travel Channel ranked 35th among all ad-supported cable networks in total prime-time viewers.
Some of the shows airing during pilot week drew ratings above Travel Channel’s normal prime-time performance. Others were lower. The network picked up the highest-rated new show of the week, “Food Paradises.” But it also picked up the lowest-rated show, “Art Attack With Lee Sandstead.”
Minute-by-minute ratings helped the Travel Channel get a feel for whether viewers were engaging with the shows, Mr. Klein said, but viewer comments were used in part to make a decision on which pilots went to series.
Also factored in were the network’s programming needs and an old-fashioned gut feel, he said.
After pilot week, the network re-aired some shows in different time slots to gauge viewer reaction.
The network had already decided to pick up two shows before pilot week began: “The Feasty Boys Eat America” and a show about luxury travel called “Plush” that has been reformulated and renamed “Lux Life.”
It also picked up “Deal Hunter With Ian Grant” and “25 Mind-Blowing Escapes.”
The series will roll out over the course of the year, beginning with “Feasty Boys” in the first quarter.
“Deal Hunter” and “Art Attack,” scheduled for the fourth quarter, will be screened for ad agencies in the coming weeks to try to drum up sponsorship and integration deals.
“The big thing was getting ahead of the upfront, with the ad sales community, and we’ve done that,” Mr. Klein said.
Not picked up were “10 Things You Don’t Know About…” and “Extreme Hotels.”
“Both of those rated better than some of those we picked up,” Mr. Klein said, but those were picked up because of other factors, including the way they fit with the network’s new image.
Another pilot called “Fest Quest” with Shane Reynolds has been picked up as a broadband series that will appear on the Travel Channel Web site, which is separating from Discovery and will be relaunched next month.
The information gathered from pilot week will go a long way in shaping how the series grow from the pilot stage.
“Of the 5,000 surveys, about 1,000 were for ‘Art Attack’ and ‘Feasty Boys,’” Mr. Klein said. “People had very strong opinions, both positive and negative, which really helped inform our decision and helped us in both cases to drive the editorial through the series.”
Specific Feedback
For example, the network originally aired “Deal Hunter” on a Friday night, when it enjoys heavier viewing by women. But the network found that men actually engaged with the program more than women.
“We ordered eight episodes, and are applying that learning to the series when we go into production,” Mr. Klein said.
Travel Channel commissioned another batch of pilots last month, but is still finalizing those deals.
“Our goal is for our next pilot week to be on our schedule in the early second quarter,” Mr. Klein said. Those shows will deal with unexpected topics for the Travel Channel, he said.
After Travel Channel announced plans for its pilot week, Discovery also announced a sneak-peek week.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Mr. Klein said.

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