Hindery Bags Sportsman Channel

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InterMedia Outdoors Holdings LLC last week completed the acquisition of The Sportsman Channel, the dedicated hunting-and-fishing network, expecting synergy with the company's 17 magazine titles in that arena.

InterMedia Outdoors is a portfolio company of InterMedia Partners VII, the media-focused private-equity firm run by Leo Hindery, the former Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network and Tele-Communications Inc. executive. Its magazine titles include Fly Fisherman, In-Fisherman, Game & Fish, Florida Sportsman and Guns & Ammo. InterMedia Outdoors, which did not disclose deal terms, also controls an online/digital network, 11 TV series, syndicated radio properties, consumer events and brand-driven merchandising businesses.

'A CANDY STORE'

It's access to this array of resources and properties that excites C. Michael Cooley, the founder of Sportsman who is continuing to serve as the channel's president and CEO.

“We have to figure out what to do first. I'm like a kid in a candy store,” Cooley said.

The initial treat Cooley and Sportsman will evidently reach for is more video-on-demand fare, tapping into InterMedia's archives.

The network counts some 15 million part- and full-time subscribers via deals with cable and telco distributors, plus select daypart carriage by broadcast affiliates. It launched VOD programming last month.

Cooley, though, said that within 60 days, Sportsman will present a “much more robust VOD package that will be regional and seasonal” in nature. “There will be programming for midwestern deer hunters, saltwater fishermen in Florida and for those who like to hunt turkeys in South Carolina.”

InterMedia Outdoors CEO Jeff Paro said the enhanced VOD service “provides cable operators with a strong edge over [direct-broadcast satellite].” Paro also believes that being able to mine data from the company's magazines that reach 22 million subscribers and network of 18 Web sites that collectively amass 1.7 million unique monthly users, will help Sportsman build its base.

“I think we'll have an advantage walking into cable affiliates office and being able to drop data on the desk that shows where the potential subscribers are within the [market],” he said. “That's a very valuable asset.”

Neither Paro or Cooley, who said Sportsman collects “a small license fee,” would discuss short- or long-term network subscriber goals. Company officials said Sportsman is scheduled to debut on Comcast systems serving the Chicagoland area on June 27, with other rollouts scheduled with the nation's largest cable operator later this year. A network spokeswoman also said more launches would occur in the months ahead with Charter and members of the NCTC.

From a programming perspective, Paro said the company and Sportsman would look to identify new production opportunities, mining both existing properties and examining new development ideas. He added that an even larger amount of library fare — which over the years has run on TNN, a forebear of Spike TV, and some of which currently airs on a number of regional sports networks and broadcast affiliates — will become available to Sportsman as “contracts unwind.” At press time, the Florida Sportsman show is the only InterMedia property that airs on the network.

InterMedia originally took a stake in Sportsman during April 2006, an investment that has enabled the network to more than double its employee base to 60 from 25.

With the added content and financial firepower, the company will take more shots at the 47 million Americans who hunt and fish and spend some $70 billion annually on equipment, gear, outfits and trips.

RIVALS IN FIELD

In addition to squaring off against regional sports networks that carry hunting and fishing fare, Sportsman competes for the attention of these enthusiasts with the much larger services ESPN, Outdoor Channel and Versus, which present genre programming to varying degrees.

To that end, Cooley said, Sportsman and InterMedia in the months ahead will “figure out where we'll go in terms of cross-promotion and how we can cross-sell advertising packages. We have to determine where we go next.”

Paro said that the combined entities, which cover the realms of shooting, fishing and hunting and all subgenres therein, provide these affinity groups with “360-degree media access. I can't think of a situation where two companies are better suited for the current environment,” he said. “Matching up customer bases will really help this company grow.”

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