With the premiere of her newest show 50/50 on the Travel Channel, Samantha Brown opens up about the state of travel TV and the direction it is taking in the future.
In a world shaped by the immediacy of social media and accessibility to various tools and technologies, traditional television has managed to maintain a position among an ever-expanding team roster of new players, be that Snapchat, Instagram, or YouTube.
And with the further introduction and integration of GoPros, drones or virtual reality platforms, travel programming in particular has grown exponentially. Both traditional travel broadcasting and digital platforms continue to inspire people to travel, even if it’s not overtly labeled “travel,” presenting both a challenge and an opportunity to programmers.
Not many can attest to that like Samantha Brown, a travel TV Veteran whose new show “50/50″, which she co-hosts with Chris Grundy, premiered Sunday night on Travel Channel.
“[Today’s audience] is multitaskers to the tenth degree, so I know from that standpoint we can just deluge them with great information and great content, whereas before we used to really keep it back and keep it simple: Here’s this experience now we are going to move on to this experience,” Brown says. “We’ve been able to really multilayer in television in that sense knowing that’s how it is consumed.”
Consumption plays a big part in staying relevant in today’s digital world, as social media has greatly influenced how and when audiences ingest their content. Whereas Brown says she feels TV most connects with 35 and older crowd, the younger generation is one that streams their content to their phones or their computers and tablets.
“They consume it in a very different way, but regardless, what remains so powerful is that people actually see you travel,” Brown says. “They aren’t reading a review about it; they are watching people actually do it, and they say, ‘I want to do that.’ People will always need to see people travel.”
The platforms through which people are seeing their content isn’t the only thing that has changed. Outlets are also changing the way they present and deliver a sense of place to viewers. The aesthetics of travel TV have experienced a renaissance in their cinematography, Brown says, switching away from documentary-style shooting thanks to emerging technologies and lessons gleaned from social media.
Visually speaking, drones and GoPros have created a new type of travel programming, bringing vast depth of field and transporting us to places once deemed impossible. Such advances deliver viewers with the exact experience of those they are watching, surpassed only by physically being there.
“We have gone back to really amazing camera photography,” Brown says. “Five years ago it started to go kind of cheap and people started to think they could shoot things on little cameras, but now we see people combining that fast pace, social media, rapid style of information with stunning photography, and those two combined are just phenomenal.”
And while new devices, spectacular footage and distributing shows quickly and efficiently to meet audience expectations is well and good, shows still depend on the one thing that is integral to almost any program: the host. What it takes to be a good host is the same today as before, because success often boils down to a simple question, Brown says.
“It’s not a complex equation,” she says, “It’s just, ‘Do I want to spend time with this person?'”
Brown credits her extensive career as one that enabled her to build trust with the audience, steadily rising from newbie travel host to expert right before their eyes.
“You are seeing me in this location and having this experience, and it’s either making me uncomfortable or it’s making me thrilled, but either way you’ve got a real emotion behind that,” Brown says. “That is where I think the travel host plays the biggest part is the emotion. You can get logistics at the drop of a hat, but when it comes to how you are going to feel by being somewhere, that’s the host’s job.”
That job has largely been dominated by the male voice, leaving women underrepresented in travel television despite the fact “they make the best travelers,” Brown says. Ten years ago, she was one of the only women at the Travel Channel network, and determining her on-camera personality was something that at first seemed to be an experiment, she adds.
“There was one faction that wanted me to be the really cool, Anthony Bourdain-type of woman. There was the other faction that wanted me to be the girl next door. There was the other one that wanted me to be the cute sex kitten. I was like, ‘You just need to get these women; they’re out there, I am just not all of them,'” Brown says. “I would get notes from a show, and they would want me to be a certain voice, and I am like, ‘But that’s just not my voice.'”
Fast forward to 2015, and Brown’s voice is a loudspeaker in the travel world; it is solid, strong, and stitched with expertise, and it has helped to pioneer the improved and increasing opportunities for women in travel programming. Though Brown acknowledges that there are certain dangers women will face that men won’t face (“No one will accost Anthony Bourdain – I mean the guy is nearly 7 feet tall!”), she still sees travel TV as an open playing field for women to enter in any capacity they want, host jobs included.
It’s not just women’s careers in travel television that Brown is a strong supporter of. She remains confident that despite the influx of social media or the pervasiveness of mobile streaming and downloading, TV is a medium that isn’t going anywhere fast, especially travel TV.
“You are visually being engaged and you are also emotionally being engaged, and that’s where the power of TV is,” Brown says. “That’s where it will always resonate.”
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Photo credit: Samantha Brown's new show 50/50 premiered on Travel Channel on October 4. Travel Channel