Theme Festival – Lifestyle: Travel & Adventure

With flight restrictions and quarantines making foreign travel tricky, armchair travellers and those holidaying at home are providing new opportunities to travel programming distributors.

High on the list of activities that coronavirus has impacted this year is international travel, and with it the holiday plans of millions worldwide. At this time of year, many of us should be packing our bags in preparation for our annual foreign holiday, but international border restrictions and local quarantine measures mean large numbers have decided their fortnight by the beach will have to wait. Enter the next best thing: travel programming.

C21's news headlines show that plenty of travel-themed content has found homes in recent weeks. BBC2, for instance, commissioned a new culinary travel series, Rick Stein's Cornwall (15x30'), produced by Banijay-owned Shine TV and Rick Stein Productions. A+E Networks-owned free-to-air channel Blaze in the UK acquired travel series Ray Winstone's Sicily (6x60') from Banijay Rights.

And global streaming service Disney+ this summer debuted Rogue Trip, a new six-part travelogue series from National Geographic. The series follows ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff and his son Mack as they travel to Colombia, Lebanon, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Ukraine. ITV in the UK has also unveiled a new autumn slate that puts travel front and centre, including two ITV Studios shows aimed at 'staycationers': new format Don't Rock the Boat (5x60'), an adventure series in which two celebrity teams row the length of Britain, and All Around Britain (10x60').

There's evidently a need for travel content, not just among those holidaying at home but also armchair travellers. "We have definitely noticed an upswing in demand for travel programming," says Sean Wheatley, head of acquisitions at Tinopolis-owned UK distributor Passion Distribution. "Audiences want a bit of escapism, so that's why travel shows have been in higher demand than they were maybe last year. People want things that are really aspirational or feel-good or escapist.

People aren't looking for anything that's too serious, they want something that's got that air of luxury, glamour or total escapism to it." At NENT Studios UK, executive VP of sales Elin Thomas also sees this as an opportunity. "Seeing as people can't travel and go on holidays, we tried to bring the world to our clients and to our viewers," she says. At Germany's ZDF Enterprises, VP of unscripted Ralf Rueckauer agrees the coronavirus pandemic has led to a rise in demand for travel programming. "Because most people can't really travel, there's been a growing demand and we get requests from our clients for programming about places that you would travel to - iconic places like the Colosseum in Rome or the Taj Mahal, for example.

So we have a bunch of programming that could bring these places to your home, like Planet of Treasures," he says. Similarly, Ben Barrett, co-founder at UK-based funding and coproduction firm Drive, points out that travel series that have already wrapped filming and are available as finished tape could become much sought-after if travel bans remain in place for the long term. "Hopefully, we can all go back to destinations like the Greek islands in the not-too-distant future, but to have a series that takes people there at the moment is the next best thing, at least allowing people to enjoy them in an escapist way," he told C21 earlier in the lockdown. "Obviously, there will be a lull in production and availability of these shows in the short to medium term, so we think there's a strong chance this type of show will do well in the current climate."

Audiences are saturated with heavy analytical content about the pandemic and are in need of light relief. Will Stapley, head of acquisitions at factual distributor TVF International, echoes this and suggests many buyers are after fresh travel content. "In the last couple of months in particular, we've seen an uplift in demand for more escapist, positive family viewing content, as opposed to specials about the coronavirus or hard-hitting documentaries that reflect people's actual lives at the moment," Stapley reveals.

"People got a bit fatigued by that introspection, so having content that is escapist and taking you to places that - over the last few months at least - people weren't able to get to has been a real priority for many of our buyers. Nonetheless, this does not mean that broadcasters are satisfied with off-the-shelf travel content or dated programming. Shows must still be enticing to both viewers and buyers, and production companies are working to keep the genre refreshed and innovative.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is by attaching high-profile talent to a project. Some of the most recent examples are the Netflix series Down To Earth With Zac Efron and the Nat Geo and Disney+ series The World According to Jeff Goldblum. "When I look at travel programming, I'm very much asking if there's a host and will they resonate with primetime buyers.

If there isn't a host, is there an angle that makes it stand out in an already quite crowded market? Has it got some kind of USP? Is there a hook or is there a relevance to the market at the moment that will make this stand out and sell as opposed to just sit on a shelf?" Stapley says.

The TVF exec warns, however, that there must be a reason for a particular host to be brought into a project. "If you're doing a travel series about Asia, for example, and you want a host, it's better to have a local host with expertise and authenticity - someone from the region who speaks the language, who's lived there and has experience with the culture and the people, rather than perhaps just a white western male presenter going around in a slightly colonial sense and exploring territories that they don't have any real experience of," Stapley warns. A familiar face hosting a series is by no means the only way to lure buyers, commissioners and viewers to programming and to update the tried-and-tested travelogue format.

"In order to enhance this travelogue style, which is maybe becoming a bit fatigued, we find that once you start coupling travel with something else, be it with cooking, photography or history, then suddenly the property gets more traction," says Ludo Dufour, senior VP of international coproductions and sales at Canada's Blue Ant International. Reflecting current public concerns also helps travel content to stand out, according to Wheatley. "Bringing the element of sustainability into it is important.

People didn't really give that much thought to flying and travelling until recently, but now, if you add in a bit of awareness about the environment and being carbon-neutral, about taking the train rather than the plane or having ecological stories when you're in a location, that can really help something feel a bit fresher and more relevant," the Passion exec claims. Developments in technology have also allowed the genre to flourish and remain competitive. As filming gear becomes more evolved, so too does the content that can be produced with it.

The evolution of drones and aerial footage has helped add another layer to production capabilities and presented viewers with more visually diverse and engaging content. "Another subgenre that is particularly appealing at the moment, is aerial content. Drones have really come to the fore in production in general, and they allow you to get those big epic aerial shots, which elevate any production.

Those shots used to be extremely expensive to get, and now anyone can afford a drone with a 4K camera and come up with pretty impressive shots," says Dufour. He points to series such as China From Above and Smithsonian's Aerial America and Aerial Britain as examples. "Gear has become much more compact, much lighter.

You can travel around with a GoPro camera and shoot some great images, and technology is helping the genre as a result." Stapley, likewise, reveals that one of TVF's most successful travel franchises is the aerial series The World From Above. However, he points out that aerial content must be accompanied by a relevant context or story.

"We know the aerials need a certain production value. Everyone has access to drones now, so it's not just a case of throwing a drone into the sky and filming from A to B, you need to have a real sense of what works, otherwise it's just fodder - a story that resonates and makes it not just wallpaper programming but culturally interesting and relevant as well," he says. The development of 4K and 8K technology also provides vast production benefits within the field, Stapley points out, adding that demand for such content has also increased in recent years.

"4K is important nowadays. We're finding that for shows that are predominantly visual, like wildlife, travel and aerials in particular, the visuals are the key component. So having the best possible visuals, whether it's 4K, or even 8K where possible, is a real bonus and opens up new opportunities to buyers.

But again, you can't just have a nice looking show, it has to be put together and have contextual interest and relevance. It can't just be wallpaper," Stapley points out. As has become the case across the global content industry, SVoD services are playing an increasingly important role in the world of travel programming, with streaming heavy-hitters like Netflix and Disney+ boasting of celebrity-fronted travel series.

The streamers' large budgets and platforms provide them with a reach unlike that of traditional broadcasters, as they are able to target a number of territories simultaneously. "Travel shows that are being commissioned or licensed by the streamers tend to be younger skewing and include A-list talent. Travel is an interesting genre for streaming because they can produce a globally appealing series that can still cater specifically to certain territories that those streamers might be particularly focusing on.

Therefore, they can provide both a global experience for their viewers and be particularly attractive to the local market," says Dufour.

2020 has not been a conventional year by any means, which has impacted the genre's development. "There's an irony to it. It's a very appealing genre at the moment because people want to get out and see the world because they've been stuck at home.

But at the same time, in order to shoot that type of show, you need to be able to travel, and there are still many travel restrictions in place at the moment. So we will see more use of archive footage in the travel documentary space," Dufour forecasts. And it's not just the unscripted sector that is looking to capitalise on demand for travel content, as holiday plans suffer worldwide.

Banijay Rights is among a number of distributors shopping dramas that feature spectacular scenery in the hope of satisfying that pent-up travel bug. Caroline Torrance, the distributor's head of scripted programming, says new dramas like Greenland-shot Thin Ice (8x45') and GR5: Into The Wilderness (8x45') feature "stunning landscape escapism." The latter was filmed on the GR5 hiking trail, which stretches across Europe from the Netherlands to the South of France, through the Alps. "As people can't travel from their sofas, this series will give them something spectacular to look at, as well as an intriguing plot," Torrance says. For many of us who have had to cancel travel bookings this year, we may have to make do with Zac Efron guiding us around exotic locations while sitting in the same room we have occupied for the past seven months.

Hopefully, this genre can provide some respite.

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