Scripps Networks’ The Travel Channel is looking to gather some of the travel booking dollars its viewers spend after seeing its programming. The network invested $7.5 million in Oyster.com, a start-up that employs professionals to review hotels and takes a cut of all the room reservations it helps to make. It will promote Oyster on television and online, and may incorporate the site’s reviewers into future programs, said a New York Times article.
“If we’re going to inspire you, by all means you should be able to get it all done on our site. That’s on our horizon,” Travel Channel Laureen Ong said in an interview.
By linking with Oyster, which has a commerce-through-editorial model, the Travel Channel is diversifying its revenue sources beyond advertising and cable subscriber fees. The deal is being struck a year and a half after Scripps took 65% ownership of the Travel Channel from Cox Communications in a deal that valued the channel and its website at $975 million.
The current Travel Channel site is little more than a travel brochure. Elie Seidman, co-founder and chief executive of Oyster, told the paper he viewed the deal as an indicator of integration between television and the Web, something that “is going to happen more and more rapidly in the months and years ahead.”
Oyster’s versions of travel agents are staff members who visit hotels, take photos and publish reviews. The site only covers 14 destinations now, all in North America, but with the new financing it will add smaller markets on that continent and markets around the world. It also hopes to incorporate some of the Travel Channel’s video archives.
The Travel Channel is part of the second round of financing for Oyster, which came online in mid-2009 and was backed with $8.5 million by Bain Capital Ventures. The investment will make the Travel Channel a minority owner in Oyster. Bain also participated in the second round of financing.
It will not take long for the Travel Channel to add occasional text on the bottom of the screen that points viewers to Oyster for more information about what they are seeing on a show. It will take longer to develop programming that includes Oyster, but Ong said she was sure that “if we do shows around hotels, Oyster will have participation in it.”
RBR-TVBR observation: Not a bad idea to gain additional revenues. Loyal viewers of the network will have little trouble booking through a site that will essentially be co-branded. The only red flag that could go up is viewers will potentially be disappointed in programming that ends up looking like a paid program or infomercial. So there’s a fine line to walk here.