How I Started a Network – Without Comcast

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It has been said of late that if a network doesn’t secure Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest MSO, then it will have a tough time even getting a foot in the door to start talks with the remaining cable providers.

Perhaps these folks haven’t considered The Sportsman Channel (TSC) and how we had already secured the remaining cable operators: Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications Inc., Adelphia Communications Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and 14 other of the top 25 MSOs, all without the security or assistance of having Comcast. We are living proof that channels can survive without Comcast, contrary to the belief of many. TSC has been around for over two years and our channel, which is dedicated exclusively to hunting and fishing programming, is not just surviving, but flourishing.

Other start-up networks tend to have the approach of “If you have Comcast, they will come.” Securing carriage is the key, but there is a formula: Provide a superior quality channel with lower subscriber fees that draws subscribers. Our team focuses on quality customer service and first-class marketing tactics to our affiliates, for an “If you can prove yourself, they will come” approach.

Another successful method for an independent channel employed at TSC was setting the launch date and keeping it.

The date never moved, even though we didn’t have any agreements signed when the champagne popped on April 7. Our team approached the launch with 100% confidence in our product.

It certainly didn’t take long after we drank the champagne for us to secure our first contracts with the National Cable Television Cooperative. This gained the attention of MSOs in the top 10 — and eventually deals were struck in 2004.

We just recently completed our agreement with Comcast, which makes them the last of the top five MSOs to come on board, not the first. This proves that we didn’t need a deal with them to validate our channel or secure distribution with other MSOs.

Some pessimists believe Comcast only launches channels if it is financially involved. TSC is an independent, and Comcast is, after all, still a business. It will launch channels that it believes will keep it competitive and increase subscriber counts.

No one knows better than me that starting a new channel in this market is a daunting and difficult task. But it can be done, and I am not sure if holding Comcast responsible is entirely the reason for the high level of complexity we experience as channel presidents.

That’s especially true since there are 70 million other cable subscribers, plus another 25 million DBS subscribers out there.

Just because you are unable to be first to reel in a big fish doesn’t mean the ocean won’t provide you with a worthy catch.

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