Travel Channel Chief Patrick Younge Stepping Down

Travel Channel president and general manager Patrick Younge is stepping down from his post, effective January 2010.

In a statement released by the network on Wednesday, Younge said he’d been planning to return to his native London since 2007. The move coincides with the matriculation of his son, who will be entering high school in September.

“As tough as I will find it to leave my team at Travel Channel Media, I’m fulfilling a promise I made to my two children, who remained in the U.K. when I joined TCM in 2005,” Younge said. “Pat Esser and the TCM staff have long known of my plans, and they also know they can rely on me to continue to give this business 100 percent through year-end to ensure our upfront commitments are delivered.”

Younge also said that he’ll help ensure a smooth transition with his eventual successor. “I will work with Pat Esser on identifying what the business needs going forward…and certainly, whether he’ll take my purview on the candidates is up to him,” Younge said. “But the business is in a good place and in making the announcement now we have time to really recruit properly.”

Since Younge took the reins four years ago, Travel Channel has put a premium on engaging original programming. “When I first started we were the poker network. The World Poker Tour made up 20 percent of our prime-time schedule, and now it airs just once in fringe,” Younge said. In place of Texas Hold ‘em, Travel began cashing in on star vehicles like Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and newcomer Bridget’s Sexiest Beaches, a surf-and-sand travelogue hosted by former Girls Next Door personality Bridget Marquardt.

The originals have upped Travel’s profile considerably. In the first quarter of 2009, the network averaged a record 265,000 viewers 18-49 primetime, up 20 percent versus the year-ago period. The high-octane slate also helped draw a younger audience. In the first three months of this year, Travel grew its nightly share of viewers 18-34 by 28 percent, and the network’s median age is now 45, down from 50 in 2007.

Younge joined Travel from BBC Sport, where he served as head of programs and planning from 2001-2005. In May 2007, Travel parent Discovery Communications sold the network and its digital assets to Cox Communications as part of a larger $1.28 billion transaction. As part of the terms of its deal with Cox, Discovery continues to oversee all national ad sales duties for Travel.

The split from Discovery played a significant role in Travel’s development, Younge said. “It turned out to be the making of us as a business,” he said. “It allowed us to get out from under the shadow of Discovery Channel and TLC and plot our own course, and we’ve delivered.”

Younge spoke to Mediaweek from London, where he has just begun his job search. “I’ve nothing lined up. The economy is much worse here in the U.K., but I’ll find some source of alternative employment. And I’m looking forward to spending time with my kids.”