Shannon O’Neill was elevated to president of Travel Channel in February 2014. In this role, he’s responsible for building brand strategy, developing additional programming and talent to increase ratings and creating new business opportunities for Travel Channel. He previously served as Travel Channel’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, where he was responsible for the core financial reporting, strategy and analysis function, as well as the overall digital strategy and operations for the brand.
Prior to joining Travel Channel, Shannon served as senior vice president and general manager of Golf Channel’s new media business from 2007-10. Under his direction, Golf Channel’s new media business grew from single-digit revenues to over $50mm.
How did you get into the travel/media industry?
I was extremely fortunate to work for Comcast for over eight years, which included four years at Golf Channel. I actually started on the cable side, but then moved to the programming side and worked for Jeff Shell, who was then the President of Comcast Programming. Jeff was an amazing leader and mentor, and I learned the programming business from him and his great team, in particular the network leadership teams at E!, Versus, Comcast Sportsnet and Golf Channel.
Tell us about Travel Channel. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
Travel Channel is over 28 years old, and yet still feels like a startup. I love TV and I love Travel, so I feel very lucky to be in my position. It’s easy to go to work each day when you love what you do and work with so many great people. The vision is simple – to connect our viewers to the world – amazing places, amazing people, amazing stories.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Travel Channel's success?
Partnerships are critical to our success – advertisers, distributors, production companies, and of course marketing. On the marketing side, we look to partner with brands that reach our target audience. Past and current partners include NASCAR, MLB, Sports Illustrated and the NFL, as well as travel-related partners like US Travel Association, Brand USA, the National Parks Foundation, and the Travel & Adventure Show.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
There is obviously a lot of discussion and coverage around how consumer behavior is evolving – how we watch TV, when we watch, and where we watch. But I think a lot about the ever-present need for great storytelling, particularly in non-fiction. Over the last few years, some programmers have felt like audiences no longer have the patience for storytelling, and that a generation w/ ADD can only handle short bites and shocking situations. But we believe that people want great storytelling now more than ever, and you can see that with all of the great scripted programming. We are aiming to do the same high quality, great storytelling in non-fiction travel.
Very good question, but I’m not sure I have ever thought about a good answer to that. But at my core, I believe in always being optimistic, always believing that things can get better. Rational, but optimistic. I like to surround myself with positive-thinking, can-do people. Optimism energizes me.
Travel Channel's Motto?
Our tagline is “Travel Moves You.” We like the double meaning – we physically move you and emotionally move you. Amazing travels and incredible people.
Your greatest success as president of Travel Channel?
Yet to come.
Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
I co-founded a .com startup in the late 90’s. In late 2001, we made the very difficult decision to shut down the company and layoff our staff. What began as the most exciting work experience, turned into the most disappointing. But I learned so much from the experience, all of which has helped me be successful today. What also makes me happy is that my co-founder and all of our key employees have all gone on to great success, so we all learned and applied to our future decisions.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Always raise more money than you ever think you will need. There is nothing that stunts growth and innovation more than constant fundraising. If you think you need $1mm, get $2-3mm.
Describe the ideal experience watching Travel Channel.
My ideal experience would be that when I come home each night, my family’s first choice for TV is Travel Channel, along with HGTV and Food. If both my wife and daughter want to watch Travel Channel every night, then I know we are doing something right. And that is becoming closer and closer to reality.
How do you motivate your employees?
My role is to provide the vision and inspiration, and then empower the team to do what they do best. I am big on honesty and transparency; encourage risk-taking and thinking differently, and sharing all of the credit while assuming full responsibility for what doesn’t work. And at the end of the day, this should be a lot of fun – We’re Travel Channel – what’s not to love!
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Sushi and vodka soda w/ lime.
What literature is on your bed stand?
Almost always something in the “historical fiction” genre. I recently read “NY: The Novel” and I am almost finished “London: The Novel.” I love history and the personal stories make it relatable and entertaining.
Role model - business and personal?
I am fortunate to have worked for several great leaders, and at Scripps there is an abundance of great people to model after. But at the end of the day, my father is still the biggest influence on how I conduct myself at work and in my personal life.
I absolutely love my job; we have such great people and so much opportunity. And of course, I love traveling and exploring the world with my wife and 12-year old daughter.
Favorite travel destination?
I never get enough of Hawaii, but I always believe my favorite destination will be the next one.
What's next for Travel Channel?
We will mark our 30th anniversary in February of 2017, and we plan to celebrate our best year ever!
Prior to joining Golf Channel, Shannon served as vice president, emerging networks for Comcast Programming Group where he was responsible for developing and launching new media businesses. His final project with Comcast was the launch of FEARnet, the first multi-platform horror network, in partnership with Sony and Lionsgate.
Prior to joining Comcast and Golf Channel, Shannon co-founded a startup venture which developed a proprietary system for capturing, filtering and tagging financial information on the web. He began his career in the Philadelphia office of Ernst & Young.
Shannon is a CPA and received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Delaware. He, his wife Dawn and their daughter Devin live in Bethesda, Md.