For Travel Channel show, viewer feedback plays starring role

'5 Takes' creators regularly modify content based on viewers' suggestions

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Here's an idea to terrify the average consumer marketer: Conduct a focus group in real time and make the changes suggested as you go along.

For some, that nimbleness is here today thanks to the lightning-fast speed of online information and feedback. Travel Channel's "5 Takes" is one of the best examples-a true model of convergence between the Internet-based communications world and traditional TV.

The show follows five 20-somethings as they travel the Pacific Rim on $50 a day. It's produced in a shoot-edit format by Michael Rosenblum, a BBC, NY1 and Current TV vet. That means that the content is shot, edited and brought to air in 10 days. Travel Channel General Manager Pat Younge uses real-time feedback from his viewers to modify the show week-to-week and shape itineraries based on viewer suggestions. Each of the stars writes a daily blog, tapes a weekly vlog and reads viewer comments on message boards. Travel Channel chose four of the five stars and put candidates for the fifth spot online and let its viewers vote. They chose Gabe, a 24-year-old radio DJ from Fort Collins, Colo.

The show smacks of the citizen journalism that some other media companies are employing-Current TV, for example, which counts on its viewers to both create and help program the channel's content. And the BBC has armed many of its reporters with shoot-edit skills, eliminating the need to dispatch multi-person teams to the scene of a story. But Current, which Mr. Younge calls "guerrilla-type TV," is in 28 million homes; Travel Channel reaches 82 million. "We've got a lot to deliver in terms of affiliates and advertisers," he said.

On April 18, for example, at about 2 a.m. in London (9 p.m. New York time), Mr. Younge was sitting down in his family home with his laptop, poised for some real-time feedback on the program.

a viewer's opinion

One viewer, "Gibbsgirl," who posted 36 minutes into the show, had a critique of how the show covered one of the characters, Tony: "I did think that the show jumped around a bit with what Tony was struggling with. ... I appreciate that you tried to wrap it up at the end, but having read his blog (and knowing a little about Tony) I feel as if his experience as a black American man from Washington, D.C. traveling in Australia is unique, and we are missing an opportunity here."

Mr. Younge answered 11 minutes later: "Gibbsgirl ... interestingly, when you watch the longer version of what Tony said when he was fishing, he didn't talk about it in racial terms, either ... he alludes to that earlier, when he says he's feeling isolated and lonely because there's no one else like me in the group or in the country, but he was never explicit about race when fishing . ... If he said it, we'd use it, because it is an aspect of travel for those of us who are black."

The show is a huge departure for Travel Channel. A typical show would have been cast, run through focus groups, filmed for 10 to 16 weeks and edited for another six to eight weeks before being put to bed. In "5 Takes," Mr. Younge has five relatively inexperienced cast members and is on his third narrator in three episodes. The first season was narrated by the cast members but audience feedback indicated the show needed more structure. After adding a narrator to season two, viewers indicated they liked the laissez-faire nature of the first season, so Mr. Younge has been trying different voices.

"We're only scratching the surface with this," Mr. Younge said. "Someone came online the other day and said why don't you just put all the raw material on the Web and let us do our own version of the show. It's fascinating and scary at the same time."
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