Travel Channel series hits Web destinations

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With the interactive nature of the Web serving as its compass, Travel Channel is giving viewers at home the chance to ride along, in real time, on a road trip across the U.S.

Oct. 28 is the Season 3 premiere of its series "5 Takes," which chronicles the journeys of five young traveling journalists who have their itineraries dictated by viewer suggestions and travel challenges posted online.

The eight-week tour has the group stopping in cities including Anchorage, Alaska, Washington, Las Vegas and Memphis, Tenn. But viewers determine the group's final destination through an online vote.

While the series' first season saw a group of Americans trekking across Europe, last year's installment had another group of five discovering the Asia Pacific region. That series sparked interest by viewers in the Pacific Rim to see the U.S. this time around.

"Our main goal is to create a truly interactive experience where travelers on the road get the best local knowledge from people who really know the places they're going," says Patrick Younge, executive vp and general manager of Discovery Travel Media. "It's a fully integrated experience where the interactive elements push and pull each other."

Allotted only $50 per day and equipped with a mini DV camera and laptop editing facilities to create daily blogs and weekly video logs, each traveler will share his or her perspectives online. The series' episodes will air within seven days of being filmed, allowing viewers to see if their advice was followed.

"At the moment, our biggest challenge is staying with four other people in a hostel and dealing with camera crews 24/7," says Jaime Tan, calling from Sin City Hostel off the Las Vegas strip, the group's first stop.

Tan, who hails from Singapore, was chosen from a field of 4,500 applicants. She will rely on TravelChannel.com as her communication conduit and can chat with viewers online while they watch on their TVs.

During last year's excursion, when one willing bungee jumper suddenly became a little less ambitious to take the plunge during a visit in Queenstown, New Zealand, her change of heart was shared by everyone watching.

Another scenario had a 10-year-old Singapore viewer taking the traveling journalists to a Hindu temple and then home to his family for dinner.

"On the Web, we build this unique community, which started up around the show, but because they start sharing travel experiences it becomes a community of really impassioned travelers," says Younge, who revealed that Season 4 will be based in Latin America.

In terms of television viewership, Young said that though the "5 Takes" series hasn't been a ratings smash, it has been one of the network's biggest events on the Web. It has driven advertising and served as a source of learning about how to apply multiscreen programming to other Travel Channel shows, he said.

"We're not a new kid on the block -- we're a big established network -- but we're pioneering in new forms of interactivity by learning from this low-cost brand of instant filmmaking," he says.
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