A Lure for Subscribers

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The Sportsman Channel is using the lure of big game and big catches to help its affiliates net customers and viewers. Big Bend, Wisc.-based TSC is arming distributors like Bresnan Communications, Knology Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. with elk and boar hunts and fishing expeditions to fuel acquisitions or drive sports-tier upgrades.

TSC launched in April 2003 to fill a programming gap, according to CEO and founder Michael Cooley. A sportsman himself — he has two shows on the network, Wing Shooting Adventures and Hunting Adventures and a third, Angling Adventures, on the way for 2006 — Cooley said the opportunities for producers of hunting and fishing programming have diminished.

He pointed to the transformation of the once hunting-and-fishing heavy The Nashville Network to TNN: The National Network (now Spike TV), as well as plays by competitors The Outdoor Channel and Outdoor Life Network to broaden their programming.

Cooley said TSC has agreements with 14 of the top 25 MSOs, including Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications Inc., Charter and Adelphia Communications Corp. Through cable and broadcast carriage — predominantly weekend morning and overnight blocks — TSC is currently available in 47 states and counts some 12.6 million full- and part-time subscribers.

Cooley said TSC is close to signing contracts with two other top 10 MSOs and one DBS provider. He declined to specify rate-card terms other than to say that TSC, which is offering instructional video-on-demand content and developing HDTV video-on-demand content, does garner a small license fee.

With over 100 independent production companies in tow and the tagline “All Hunting. All Fishing. All the Time,” TSC deploys what is essentially a time-buy cooperative platform. Cooley said producers secure time on the service and bring their own advertisers — about 4 minutes per hour — to the party.

TSC, which counts such major sponsors as the U.S. Coast Guard, outdoor retailer Cabela’s and Suzuki Marine, also holds a couple of minutes, while local ops have up to four minutes.

The independent producers also bring the expeditions to the affiliate table.

Knology, which added TSC in June, will use a three-day wild boar hunt in South Carolina as a means to push digital or drive upgrades to its $9.95-per-month sports tier.

Marketing coordinator Robert Grantham said Knology, which is kicking in a four-wheeler, will support the initiative by previewing TSC on analog from Sept. 1 to 24, and running cross-channel avails, crawls on The Weather Channel and touts on knology.com. The efforts will culminate with a meet and greet party and with producers of the Carolina Outdoors show at Knology offices in Columbus Ga. on Sept. 24, when a pair of winners will be drawn.

“For many of the people in our area, this is a truly wonderful trip. And how cool is it for the winner to not only go on the hunt, but then have it shown on TV?” said Grantham.

Charter’s Mid America Group, meanwhile, is scoping out a direct-mail effort aimed at adding new sports-tier subscribers — the cluster makes TSC, along with a trio of Fox College Sports channels, NFL Network and Fuel, available for $4 per month. The consumer sign up incentive: A chance for two winners to take a three-day Canadian fishing trip next spring, which will air on The Dimestore Fisherman.

“We’ll tap our data base for non-customer households that may have a propensity toward hunting and fishing,” Charter director of marketing Mike Hoffey said. “It’s nice to see a new network put together a very attractive, and in this case very expensive, value-added program. That’s what catches the attention of a marketing people. This isn’t a bunch of jackets, T-shirts or caps.”

While the perception holds that fishing and hunting are enjoyed largely by folks living in rural areas, Cooley said that 48% of the 47 million Americans who enjoy those pursuits every year reside in urban or suburban locales.

They also tend to plunk down more cash on some of the high-priced safaris and other expeditions chronicled on the network. All told, Cooley said Americans spend upward of $70 billion per year on these sports.

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