Angling for Attention


ESPN rocked the boat in
outdoors/lifestyle programming circles in
May, when sports TV’s largest player said it
would drop all of its long-running outdoors
shows, with the exception of Bassmasters
bass-fishing events.

World Fishing Network CEO Mark Rubenstein
wasn’t surprised.

“Our first reaction was, ‘What took them
so long?’ Th e reality is that consumers want
fully dedicated channels,” Rubenstein said of
the more than 87 million U.S. hunters, fishermen
and outdoors enthusiasts.

His view: An all-encompassing sports network
such as ESPN or ESPN2 (where such fare
was a Saturday-morning staple) cannot satiate
the outdoors audience, which craves ondemand,
in-depth programming like instruction
and gear reviews.

The passionate community of anglers,
hunters and wildlife lovers spends $10.1
billion each year on hunting and fishing
equipment, making the outdoor category
No. 1 in sports-equipment sales, according
to the National Sporting Goods Association.

And in the wake of ESPN’s decision, niche
cable and satellite channels in the outdoors
space are casting their bait in hopes of attracting
a bigger swath of that audience.


While audience numbers are smaller on those
outdoors-devoted networks than on ESPN2,
the outdoors-focused channels hope advertisers
will be attracted to a highly-targeted, often
hard-to-reach audience.

“Do you want a lot of eyeballs
or do you want the right
eyeballs?” Outdoor Channel
senior vice president of marketing
and research Denise
Conroy-Galley said. “Our
base is more targeted and
more ardent.”

This summer, Outdoor
Channel — possessing the
largest potential audience
in outdoor TV, with 36 million
households — bolstered
its fishing lineup by acquiring
four shows from ESPN2’s
“ESPN Outdoors” catalog,
including Buccaneers
and Bones
, with celebrity
anglers such as Tom Brokaw and Michael

Former ESPN host Jerry McKinnis selected
Outdoor Channel as the home for shows from
his production company CSE, including Madfin Shark, Spanish Fly and Zona!.

The network also picked up educational
show Fishing University from Comcast-owned

“We have more time, particularly more
primetime and more weekend daytime hours,
to devote to [outdoors programming], because
this is our core topic,” Outdoor Channel CEO
Roger Werner said, though he conceded some
producers of lifestyle shows are not pleased to
be leaving the worldwide sports leader. “I don’t
think any of them relish the thought of leaving
ESPN, [but] I think they see us as the next
best alternative.”

McKinnis, whose The Fishin’ Hole ended
a 30-year run on ESPN this year, expressed
some sadness about leaving that network, but
acknowledged the changing landscape of the
outdoor TV industry.

“My show was the first [outdoor] show they did
in 1980,” McKinnis said. “I have ESPN blood in
my veins. It was a little bit of a bummer when they
decided to not broadcast half-hour produced
shows, but I saw it coming and I knew why.”

ESPN has telecast events, including soccer
matches, and editions of SportsCenter on
weekend mornings on ESPN2.

McKinnis will still maintain a working relationship
with ESPN for The Bassmasters. He
recently purchased bass-fishing organization
B.A.S.S. from the network with partners Don
Logan, a retired AOL Time Warner executive
and avid fisherman, and former Deloitte
CEO Jim Copeland.

“They did a lot of great things
for the sport of bass fishing,”
McKinnis said of ESPN. “They
helped us make stars … but
they knew and we knew they
couldn’t touch the grassroots
bass fisherman like [niche
networks] could.”

The Sportsman Channel
bolstered its programming
slate by picking up ESPN
shows from widely-recognized
producer Tom Miranda:
Whitetail Country and
Territories Wild.

While Spor tsman
reaches 26 million households,
Gavin Harvey
said there
are still challenges
in getting
who may have
bought time on
ESPN, to make the switch to a smaller, more
closely-defined network.

Harvey said outdoors cable networks are the
place to be if you’re an advertiser “trying to sell
a deer rifle or you’re trying to sell boat loaders.”
But advertisers don’t always see the value of the
outdoors audience in non-endemic categories,
such as automotive or insurance.

“Evangelizing the value of this vertical market
to our distributors is another one of the
challenges,” Harvey said, opining that every
cable operator should have at least one outdoors/
lifestyle network on digital basic.


Outside Television, which has carriage in
popular resort towns across the country,
is working to expand its distribution. It occupies
the “active lifestyle” niche, or sports
such as running and skiing. The channel,
which reaches 2 million viewers a week in
resort towns across the country, reaches a
more affluent audience than the hunting/
fishing networks, CEO Mark Burchill said.

“They are very different types of people and
they’re looking for different types of programming,”
he said. “We see ourselves as complementary
to those networks, not competitive.”

Toronto-based WFN, which has 4 million
subscribers, also wants to make a bigger splash
in 2011. Next month, it launches a number of
mobile advertisements and portals and executives
are bullish about the response so far from
the advertiser community.

“We think we have the tiger by the tail,” Rubenstein
“There was
a void in the
[and] a lot of
money being
spent by advertisers
trying to
reach the audience.
We have
the skill set to
deliver all of