Courtney White of Travel Channel on "Chillcation" Programming

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Cover image for  article: Courtney White of Travel Channel on "Chillcation" Programming

In television, the holiday season is typically filled with programming stunts, movie classics and specials catering to the whole family.  One might expect all of the Scripps networks to keep with tradition and follow suit. But one of them -- Travel Channel -- is trying something slightly different this year: A series of specials, as well as special episodes from popular series, collectively comprising what Scripps refers to as a "Chillcation." Unlike most holiday programming initiatives this one doesn’t begin until Christmas evening with Alaska -- Water and Ice, which explores natural (rather than man-made) waterparks in that state. Viewers who tune in to "Chillcation" programs will see the network’s biggest stars -- including Josh Gates, Jack Maxwell, Anthony Melchiorri, Don Wildman, Andrew Zimmern and Zak Bagans -- in a new light as they are immersed in places unknown instead of basking in the warmth of a studio environment.                

The development of the "Chillcation" programming has been overseen by Courtney White, Senior Vice President of Programming for Travel Channel. An 11-year veteran of Scripps Networks Interactive, she is a self-professed lover of place-based storytelling -- and last December, when she moved over to Travel Channel (after serving as a senior programming executive for HGTV, DIY Network and Great American Country), she found a place to explore wild on-location adventures -- including the hunt for a woolly mammoth in a "Chillcation" episode of Josh Gates' series Expedition Unknown (see photo below).

Mary Ellen Holden: What is "Chillcation" all about?

Courtney White: "Chillcation" is an umbrella describing our winter fantasy programming.  The name speaks to a fun, fantasy getaway with a bit of adventure. There is also a cool double entendre as people will be chilling with family in front of the fireplace.

Mary Ellen:  Why launch a programming stunt on Christmas evening?

Courtney: We had always planned to kick off a programming stunt on the last Sunday of December. This year, the date just happens to be Christmas. Rather than shy away from such a blockbuster date, we realized that families would be together and that it was logical to offer audiences programming that catered to family viewing that’s not necessarily holiday themed. We’re celebrating winter and providing them with an alternative to Miracle on 34th Street or Its a Wonderful Life. Competitive research helped to inform our decision as we know that other networks tend to be quiet during this time and our viewership has been supersized in the past.

Mary Ellen: Scripps Networks counterprogrammed the Olympics.  This is beginning to feel like a pattern.

Courtney:  The holidays are a heavy travel time and it feels appropriate to celebrate the magic of winter. This is about the audience and we were looking to capture a mood that feels appropriate to the week. We are making a big play for travel programming while travel is in the zeitgeist. With that said, this is not a one-and-done stunt; we are showcasing programs that viewers can find on the network the following week at 9 p.m. Fans will enjoy all-new specials, as well as special episodes of our most successful series like Bizarre Foods, Expedition Unknown and Mysteries at the Museum.

Mary Ellen: What are your benchmarks for success?

Courtney:We have three primary goals for Chillcation: 

  1. We are looking to reward our consistent, loyal viewers with something special.
  2. We are looking to bring new eyeballs (families) together to watch special episodes from our existing series. We want to get them hooked. During the holidays, co-viewing tends to take place in larger groups which enables us to capture more people during the same time period.
  3. We are using Chillcation as a platform to launch our new Q1 programming initiative Dive Into Winter -- a continuation of our summer fantasy water-based programming stunt.

Mary Ellen: Will Chillcation be cross-promoted throughout the Scripps Networks ecosystem?

Courtney:  Our promotional campaign is primarily on-air, digital and social.  Our Travel Channel talent is involved via their own Twitter handles and Facebook Live. We plan to watch the social conversation around this event like a hawk!

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