News

ON TARGET: Why Shooting, Hunting and Fishing Shows Are Suddenly Relevant

4/12/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

By the latest count of the
federal government, fewer people
have been fishing and hunting in
the U.S. over the past decade for a
variety of factors, including an aging
demographic and habitat loss.

So why are there more hunting, shooting
and fishing shows on TV than ever?
Not just more shows, but more channels,
online content and personalities?

The particular reasons for the increased
attention are as diverse as the
demographic of the audience: fears that
President Obama will push for stricter
gun-control laws, a down economy and,
perhaps, “kill shots.” And while the fin-and-
fur genre on TV is decidedly small, it
shows how even in the maturing business
of cable TV, some niches are still growing
— and are still worth pursuing.

The long-term trends are unsettling because hunters and
anglers are by far the biggest contributors to wildlife conservation.
Taxes on guns, ammo, and state hunting and
fishing licenses generate several hundred million dollars
that go toward local wildlife agencies every year. It could be
particularly troubling for cable networks — a disappearing
audience is not exactly a growth market.

Five percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older
— 12.5 million people — hunted in 2006,
according to the U.S. Wildlife and Fisheries
Service. From 1991 to 2006, the number of
all hunters (16-plus) declined by 11%, while
spending on hunting supplies increased
24%. From 1991 to 2006, the number of all
anglers (16-plus) declined 16% to 30 million,
and expenditures increased 18%.

But the networks and groups that cater to
the rod and gun enthusiasts say there’s reason
to believe that the federal government’s
statistics may be dated now, and there are
signs that more people are shooting, hunting
and fishing. “The genre remains healthy
— there’s still eager demand for this content,”
said Willy Burkhardt, president of
seven-year-old Sportsman Channel, which
reaches more than 25 million subscribers, a
fraction of what fully distributed networks
reach. “It just hasn’t been served all that
well. Quality of service has gone up.”

And the audience has the potential to be big game. “The
size and intensity of the outdoor genre, including hunting
and fishing, represent a huge cross section of the male
population. They’re passionately engaged and committed
— in that lies a significant opportunity for growth,” said
Outdoor Channel CEO Roger Werner, former CEO of Speed
Channel and Outdoor Life Network, which was rebranded as Versus in 2006.

“You take all the golfers
and all the tennis players,
combined, and they still
don’t total as many as the
people who fish in North
America,” said Mark Rubenstein,
CEO of the four-year-
old World Fishing
Network, which now reaches
nearly 4 million subscribers.
“This is a pure play.”

Lately, equipment
shows for outdoor enthusiasts
are setting attendance
records, and
the latest data from
states suggests an uptick
in shooting, hunting and
fishing. Some forecasts
say the outlook is slow,
but better than it’s been
in years past. The outdoor
channels hope to prey on
this trend, luring more
viewers with updated
production techniques,
celebrity hosts with attitude,
online how-to clips
and public-affairs campaigns,
such as Sportsman
Channel’s “Hunt.
Fish. Feed.” tour to contribute
harvested quarry
to local food banks.

The field is now the
province of a few hearty
players, mostly stationed
on digital tiers,
all of whom say demand
is strong among distributors.
Outdoor Channel,
Nielsen-rated and publicly-
traded, gained 5
million new subscribers,
or nearly 16%, last year to
reach 34.5 million homes.
Sportsman Channel is
owned by Leo Hindery’s
Intermedia Outdoors,
which also owns a portfolio
of 15 magazines, including
Guns and Ammo.
Smaller players include
World Fishing Network,
The Pursuit Channel (another
hunting/f ishing
network) and In Country.
Comcast-owned Versus
offers some outdoor
content, while ESPN airs
such shows mostly on
weekends.

Some of the newest
shows revolve around the
growing sport of shooting.
Purchases of guns
and ammunition around
the U.S. rose beginning
in 2008, according to permit
data and trade groups
— a response to the fear
that President Obama or
the new Congress would
at some point pass a law
restricting gun rights. Reflecting that trend, a new
National Shooting Sports
Foundation poll conducted
by Harris Interactive
found that more Americans
are target shooting
now than six months ago.
The main reason: “home
and personal defense.”

Whether it’s post-9/11
security fears, or the need
to fire off a few rounds at
the range, Outdoor Channel
offers nearly a dozen
shows on shooting, including
The Best Defense
and American Guardian
TV. And Sportsman has
its own lineup, including
Handguns and Tactical
Impact, which offers
tips on situations ranging
“from clearing a house to
mounting a night assault
on a fortified enemy.”

The down economy
may actually be helping
boost hunting and fishing
numbers. The NSSF
released a 12-state census
in March that shows
hunting license sales rose
by 3.5% in 2009 and noted,
“It is possible that
people have more time
to hunt and that hunters
take the opportunity to
fill their freezers.”

Fishing numbers are
equally strong. In 2009
fishing-l icense sales
grew by 4.7% in the 12
states that participate in
the American Sportfishing
Association’s licensesales
index. Both sports
require little in the way of
entry costs, but both have
potential for expensive
gear and travel options
— a point not lost on network
ad-sales teams.

Even if the next federal
wildlife census shows
flat growth in hunters
and anglers, networks
are encouraged by the
fact that spending forecasts
call for steady but
slow growth; the one exception
is in boat sales.

Part of the lure of the
newer shows, network
executives said, is that
they’ve evolved so much
from the product ion
techniques of just five or
so years ago.

For example, rock ‘n’
roll soundtracks are popular
between hunt scenes.
Additionally, the so called
“kill shots” — in which
the quarry’s death is recorded,
were verboten up
until a few years ago. Now
they’re commonplace.
While non-hunters may
flinch, the shows are trying
to capture the adrenaline-
fueled moment when
an animal is harvested.

“They should not be
shy about showing energy
and excitement,”
said Bill Brassard, a
spokesman for the
NSSF. “There needs to
be a respect for wildlife
and good shows have
that balance.”

Burkhardt of Sportsman,
whose audience
is roughly 25% women,
said, “The genre has
slowly spread its wings
in terms of the styles.
There’s much more emphasis
on host and story
telling and the ‘how to’
element. And it’s increasingly
travel-focused.”

And personalities sell.
One of Sportsman’s biggest
stars, for example,
is Kim Bain-Moore, the
beautiful blonde star of
the fishing show Breaking
the Surface, and the fi rst
woman ever to compete
in the 39-year history of
the Bassmaster Classic.
On the other end is the
network’s Arrow Addiction
featuring irreverent
host Chris Brackett.

Outdoor’s Werner said
his network’s sales force
is bringing in new advertisers
such as Miller
Beer, Golden Corral Restaurants
and Ford Motor,
based on its concentration
of male viewers.

“If you’re selling beer
or blue jeans” to middle
America, Werner said,
“we’re one of the best
buys.”

March