OLN Pedals to Record Ratings

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Outdoor Life Network broke its total-day ratings record last Wednesday, buoyed by wall-to-wall coverage of Lance Armstrong dominating the Tour de France.

As Armstrong solidified what was expected to be an unprecedented sixth consecutive win at bicycling’s most prestigious stage race, which ended yesterday in Paris, OLN posted a 0.48 total-day household rating on July 21, topping its previous 0.47 record rating, which had been set just four days earlier.

OLN also set a new record for total viewers (306,021) last Wednesday. Over the first 16 legs of the 20-stage race, OLN has averaged a 1.66 gross household rating, up 8% from the 1.53 gross rating it averaged for its Tour de France coverage last year.

The Comcast Corp.-owned network has been using race coverage to drive viewers to new programs. Its premiere of Countdown: Courage 25 pulled a 0.39 rating last Wednesday morning at 11:30 a.m., and generated a 0.32 rating for its 4:30 p.m. repeat.

OLN’s Tour de France rights run through at least 2007, but the biggest challenge next year might be drawing viewers to a race that doesn’t feature Armstrong. According to a report in The New York Times last Friday, Armstrong has told race organizers that this year’s Tour would be his last attempt.

OLN president Gavin Harvey acknowledged Armstrong is irreplaceable, but pointed out the network has been spotlighting Armstrong rivals such as Tyler Hamilton and Jan Ullrich in an attempt to introduce the racers to viewers.

“Lance is not just Michael Jordan — he’s not just a guy that dominates his sport. His story transcends cycling. He’s a best selling author, he’s a pop icon, he’s a once in a generation story,” Harvey said.

OLN believes it can ride Armstrong’s popularity to potentially develop and sponsor new races that it could cover. “We would love to create some sort of domestic event, and we think we have a two-year window to do that,” Harvey said.

Discovery Communications Inc., which recently signed a multi-year deal to sponsor Armstrong’s racing team, expects Armstrong to return next year for a potential seventh title in bike racing’s biggest event.

“He’s committed to racing next year in the Tour de France,” Discovery spokeswoman Annie Howell said on Friday.

But Howell said she did not now whether or not Armstrong was contractually obligated to race next year as part of the sponsorship deal with Armstrong’s Tailwind Sports team.

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