Programming

Travel Channel Checks Into Hotel Booking Biz

Acquires stake in Oyster.com 4/25/2011 06:00:00 AM Eastern

In addition to showing viewers great destinations, Travel Channel wants to book hotel rooms for them.

By buying a minority stake in Oyster.com, the Scripps Networks Interactive channel is branching out into the online travel transaction business in search of new revenue streams.

"This is so much more than just growing a linear channel," said Travel Channel President Laureen Ong. "At Scripps, it's all about owning your category. They own the food space, they own the home space and we will own the travel space."

Ong declined to say how much Scripps paid for its stake in Oyster.com, a three-year-old content and commerce site funded by Bain Capital Ventures. In the short term, Travel Channel will make money on trips booked through Oyster.com via Travelchannel.com. As a part owner, it will also share in Oyster.com's growth and profits over the long term.

The main thing Travel Channel, which is in nearly 100 million homes, can do for Oyster is increase awareness of Oyster.com, whose paid investigators visit and take pictures of the hotels they review and rate.

"It's in our best interest for the visibility and familiarity of Oyster to be top of mind, so we will do everything we can to promote Oyster," Ong said. "We will run spots for Oyster and obviously they'll sit on our site."

Travel channel will also look to programming and other content involving Oyster and using its personnel. "Anytime we start thinking about content that's hotel related, absolutely, we will look to them for guidance and we'll see where it makes sense to include them. I think that's just a natural," she said.

Ong says Oyster.com is a good fit with Travel Channel, which aims to be a trusted guide for viewers. "They are at the right stage, they have the right point of view, the right strategy and we're very like-minded in how we want to approach the business."

She called Oyster.com co-founder Elie Seidman a trusted expert, like most Scripps show hosts. "You'll see how passionate he is about travel, you'll see how particular his is about his travel," Ong said. "So beyond the hotel space, I would envision that Elie will be valuable to us on any number of fronts."

While Seidman didn't want an on-air role for himself, he said Oyster's experts already do a fair amount of TV work. "It's very good for us to do. We think we have an opinion that's worth sharing."

He looked forward to working with Scripps because the company takes the idea of being an expert very seriously. Also "there are all kinds of benefits from a promotional perspective, from a distribution perspective, and brand awareness."

Travel Channel has been looking to build up its advertising base among endemic travel industry advertisers. Ong doesn't expect Oyster.com to damage any relationships with unfavorable reviews. "They don't go out of their way to bash," she says.

Even as the network is building a capability to help viewers book online, it is also looking to get travel agents more involved in its business. "Travel agents are important in the landscape and we are working very hard to have them sit on our sites as experts," said Ong.

Ong declined to say how much Scripps paid for its stake in Oyster.com, a three-year-old content and commerce site funded by Bain Capital Ventures. (The New York Times reports it's $7.5 million.) In the short term, Travel Channel will make money on trips booked through Oyster.com via Travelchannel.com. As a part owner, it will also share in Oyster.com's growth and profits over the long term.

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