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Five Questions for Gavin Harvey

6/23/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

Once known principally for hunting and fishing fare, Outdoor Life Network in recent years has added an array of other programming. Reflecting those additions, the network officially adopted the OLN acronym last July, before acquiring the rights to the National Hockey League a month later. Come fall, the Comcast Corp.-owned network will be transformed again, taking the Versus moniker. OLN CEO Gavin Harvey talked to Multichannel News editor Mike Reynolds about the service's continuing thrust toward becoming a bigger player on the sports stage.

MCN: The network’s first year with the NHL was…

GAVIN HARVEY: Epic. A category 6 on the Fujita scale of tornado intensity. It was an all-consuming, all-hands effort by my guys, and I couldn’t be prouder of them or their work. With terrific support from the NHL and our affiliates, OLN added 5 million subscribers since the season began last October and now has 69 million subscribers overall. Our post-season ratings, topped by 0.9 household rating for each of the two Stanley Cup Finals games, averaged a 0.4, 100% more than in the time periods the year before. The demos were even stronger, growing 442% among men 18 to 34 and 350% among men 18 to 49. The NHL has roared back, and we can’t wait for season two.

MCN: The Tour De France has been the net’s biggest event. How do you fare without Lance Armstrong?

GH: Anticipating that Lance would retire, we acquired a number of great sports events to fortify the network. You can’t replace an icon overnight. But when the Tour starts July 1, the competition will be fierce, and new stars will rise. Jan Ulrich, Ivan Basso and American Floyd Landis all have a good chance. Depending on team performance and the health of the competitors, there are eight to 10 racers who could win. It’s completely wide open.

MCN: You just announced five new series for fourth quarter. Which ones do you think will break through?

GH: Predicting which series will break out is a sure way to jinx it. We believe they all have a chance to attract an audience, particularly those in the fishing and hunting genres. We are on a mission to be the preeminent video brand in field sports, so you’ll continue to see high-quality, innovative outdoor shows from us. Off the Hook is in essence a reality show. We follow some friends from Brooklyn who are avid anglers. We follow their trials, tribulations and trips. We want to bring those story-telling conventions to the genre.

MCN: The network becomes Versus in September. How do you convey its meaning to consumers?

GH: We’re not a huge, multiplatform global sports-tainment hegemon, but if we execute to a meaningful brand, Versus will connect with plenty of fans who celebrate sports our way. Part of that effort will include a new Web site. We have reserved several domains. And Player, our new broadband channel, will be a big part of it, with more abundant and rich video than we’ve already been offering. Some of it will be exclusive at times.

MCN: The NFL didn’t work out. You’ve added the National Lacrosse League. Will you renew the Arena Football League and could Major League Baseball become part of the network’s lineup?

GH: Let me evade your question this way: We are continually looking for franchises that are religion to their fans, that muscle up our value proposition for viewers, advertisers, and distributors.