Three years after leaving National Geographic Channel for a position overseas, Laureen Ong is returning stateside, accepting the top spot on the Travel Channel manifest.
Effective April 19, Ong will assume the role of president, Travel Channel. She replaces Patrick Younge, who left the network in January 2010.
Since June 2007, Ong has served as chief operating officer of the Hong Kong-based satellite TV company, STAR Broadcasting, a News Corp. subsidiary. Before making the leap to the Asian market, Ong had steered National Geographic Channel, the network she co-founded back in January 2001.
Travel Channel had been searching for Younge’s successor since last May, when he first announced he’d be returning to his native London. Among those said to be in the running for the job were former Discovery Networks president Billy Campbell and erstwhile Discovery Channel president and general manager John Ford.
Ong’s Nat Geo experience tipped the scales her way. “Laureen has the brand experience and proven track record in developing non-fiction television that will help us build on the recent success that Travel Channel has achieved,” said Kenneth W. Lowe, chairman, president and CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive. “She also has an excellent business acumen that will facilitate expanding the brand into new ventures within the travel category, much like we have done with Food Network and HGTV.”
She joins Travel The announcement comes at a time when Travel Channel as it begins making a run at cable’s top 30 most-watched networks. In the first quarter of 2010, Travel averaged 516,000 total viewres in prime, making it 35th among all ad-supported cable nets. Among viewers 18-49, Travel in Q1 grew 4 percent to 277,000 viewers, while adults 25-54 improved 2 percent to 284,000.
In addition to naming the new Travel president, Scripps also appointed Jonathan Sichel general manager of the network. Sichel most recently served as senior vp of commercial affairs and operations at Travel Channel, and has been interim general manager since the Scripps acquisition.
Travel Channel has changed hands twice in the last three years. As part of a multivalenced May 2007 deal with Cox Communications, Discovery Communications sold its 25 percent stake in the network for $1.28 billion. Two years later, Cox sold a 65 percent stake in Travel Channel to Scripps Networks Interactive, a deal valued at approximately $975 million.
Per SNL Kagan estimates, Travel Channel posted net ad sales revenues of $93.6 million in 2009, down 2 percent from the year-ago period. Kantar Media pegs Travel ad sales at $145.2 million, down 1 percent from $146.9 million in 2008.