Marketing

OLN Skates Toward Success With NHL

10/07/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

OLN last week scored the first goal of its two-year National Hockey League package with decent ratings results, but it’s unclear whether every cable operator and satellite distributor that carried its initial telecast will lace up to televise the network’s next game.

Several operators carrying OLN on low-penetrated tiers are in jeopardy of having the Comcast Corp.-owned service’s hockey telecasts slashed until the network is moved to more widely available packages, according to sources close to the network.

OLN’s Oct. 5 New York Rangers-Philadelphia Flyers telecast — which marked the NHL’s return after a work stoppage iced the 2004-05 season — averaged a 0.4 household rating, 300% above the network’s year-to-date average for the 7:30-10 p.m. time slot, according to Nielsen Media Research data. Excluding Tour de France coverage, the game was OLN’s highest Wednesday-night ever among households, men 18 to 49, men 25 to 54 and total viewers (276,869), according to network officials.

But, the game — the first under a $135 million rights deal that gives OLN a suite of Monday- and Tuesday-night regular season games and a spate of playoff contests, including the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals — fell short of ESPN’s 0.5 regular-season mark for the 2003-04 campaign, but above ESPN2’s 0.2 average.

OLN offered the Rangers-Flyers game to all of its 64 million subscribers, but nearly 4 million who receive the channel on a sports tier may not have access to its Oct. 10 game or future telecasts. OLN is forbidding distributors, such as Cablevision Systems Corp., EchoStar Communications Corp. and Adelphia Communications, that have less than 40% penetration for the channel from carrying its NHL package.

Adelphia said at press time that it was still attempting to negotiate a resolution for the remaining games.

“We’re working with Comcast to get the games on everywhere,” an Adelphia spokesperson said. Both Cablevision and Adelphia offered the Rangers-Flyers game to its OLN subscribers.

EchoStar Communications Corp., which has more than 3.4 million OLN subscribers, said it plans to offer OLN’s NHL games despite the fact that the network resides on its low-penetrated America’s 180 tier.

Cablevision executives could not be reached for comment, but said recently that it intends to carry the games. It distributes OLN to approximately 25,000 of its more than 3 million cable subscribers.

NHL executives could not be reached for comment by press time.

While OLN is hoping to drive subscribers with its NHL package, the league also has a financial incentive to see OLN’s subscriber count and prestige blossom.

OLN and Comcast will have to pay the league $15 million if OLN increases its sub base to 80 million subscribers and picks up more marquee pro sports content like the National Football League’s Thursday/Saturday game package, which could be awarded as early as next month.

September