Michael Shimbo isn’t going on the right journey when he navigates the Internet.
The former Apple and Live Nation executive who turned his love for music into Concert.TV, has hit the road with PlanesTrains+Automobiles, a digital streaming network that has launched with six original series. It’s the latest venture to bypass a traditional carriage deal with a cable or satellite provider and go straight to digital platforms for distribution.
The network is currently available online and through Roku boxes, as well as Clear Channel’s Clear TV network airing inside airports.
“I’ve been passionate about travel since my mom gave me my first Big Wheel,” says Shimbo, who is based in San Francisco. “Travel to the end of the driveway ultimately turned into an interest to see past the boundaries of anything common and familiar. But I simply wasn’t finding a travel media brand that I could relate to — one that offered me the entertainment and information that felt connected to my interests.”
Shimbo hopes he isn’t alone, and views digital as a way to launch a new brand in a category the way Tastemade has been able to compete online as a new kind of Food Network for a younger demo of viewer advertisers are hungry to reach.
“In the U.S it’s fair to say we have one travel video brand, the Travel Channel, that does a fantastic job of delivering a certain type of programming in the traditional sense,” Shimbo says. “But a category as big as travel has room for another brand, especially given the tremendous shift in viewing habits we’ve seen dramatically change the game of distribution.”
The decision to go the OTT route was driven by the lower costs to launch and run a digital network but also by the control it affords companies when it comes to content. Yet there are challenges — each platform requires a different design and tailored viewing experience to maximize each platform, says co-founder and chief creative officer Theo McMurray.
PTA’s first batch of shows include “Staycation,” where locals become tourists in their own cities; while “StateXState” features music vet Rick Marino on the road; “Day Off” features photographer and director Noah Abrams exploring new locales with musicians and other talent; while “Carry On” promotes new products to pack when traveling.
For other shows, Shimbo wants PTA to explore how travel intersects with the film industry, music, fashion, sports or causes, for example. Celebrity will certainly play a role in PTA’s programming. “If you think about it, athletes, musicians and actors are the most professional travelers on earth,” Shimbo says.
“We’re looking at a range of ideas,” Shimbo adds. “Shows that focus on one singular element of travel and blow them up into series or an area of travel that has been neglected or forgotten.”
Shimbo and McMurray have put an emphasis on producing each show in full 4K HD video. And while episodes currently stream in the six-minute range, longer versions have been developed to sell to TV networks either in the U.S. or abroad.
Investors in PTA include Venture51 and 500 Startups, while it’s also lined up an impressive roster of advisors that include celebrity chef Tyler Florence, music photographer and filmmaker Danny Clinch, music executive Marc Geiger, Fader magazine and Cornerstone Agency co-CEO Jon Cohen, creative music and TV executive David Cohn, producer Alex Lowry and technology guru Mark Malone.
“We immediately loved the PTA brand and team,” said Ryan Swagar, managing partner of Venture51. “There remains a great divide between the traditional TV and web brands. This has created a gap in programming — especially for the growing OTT viewing platforms that demand quality.”
Before PTA, Shimbo started VOD network Concert.TV, in 2003, that was dedicated to live music performances and documentaries. Mag Rack Entertainment acquired the company in 2009. Concert.TV was available in 30 million homes on Comcast, Charter, Cox, DirecTV and other cable and satcasters when it was sold.
Shimbo doesn’t rule out landing a home for PTA on a cable, satellite or telco provider. Expanding should also make its programming more attractive to advertisers. At launch, shows feature 15-second pre-roll ads for clothing and accessory brands Belstaff and Bally and Delta Airlines.
“We are in discussions with all of them to figure out how to best harmonize our OTT applications with their subscriber needs,” Shimbo says. “Ultimately I think there is a very powerful and logical compliment to all working together. Viewers want to pick their viewing device and platform but need a connection to make them work. If you’re not working on relating to everyone in that ecosystem, my gut tells me you’re not long for the future.”