Comcast Corp.’s Outdoor Life Network is preparing to launch three new on-demand channels — including what could be a cable network’s first HDTV on-demand extension.
Two of the VOD networks — action-sports channel Hazardous and hunting-and-fishing channel Hooks & Bullets — will kick off on April 7.
OLN HD is scheduled to debut during the fourth quarter.
OLN plans to offer all three on-demand channels for free to cable operators that carry the flagship network on expanded-basic tiers. Comcast systems nationwide will offer all three of the services to digital-cable subscribers as part of its free on-demand programming package, according to Comcast spokesman Chris Ellis.
“We’re really bullish on our direction. We’re perfectly comfortable looking at all of this as an investment,” OLN president Gavin Harvey said when asked why the channel wouldn’t charge additional license fees for the on-demand content.
The strategy to launch niche action-sports and hunting and fishing content will see OLN compete directly against The Outdoor Channel, an independent network that runs mostly hunting and fishing shows, and Fox Cable Networks Group’s Fuel, an action-sports outlet.
While some programmers have resisted offering cable operators video-on-demand content for free, OLN is heeding parent Comcast’s focus on offering on-demand content from basic cable and broadcast networks at no additional charge.
Meanwhile, Outdoor Channel plans to launch a linear high-definition network, Outdoor Channel 2 HD, in October. That network is also considering offering cable operators programs that could be offered to subscribers on demand.
DALE: PAY FOR VOD
But president Andy Dale said he won’t distribute any on-demand channels until cable operators agree to pay for the content.
“We have not seen an opportunity that makes any sense for us,” Dale said. “We don’t believe in giving away our content. We think we need some kind of revenue share when it comes to VOD.”
Programming for OLN’s on-demand networks will include library shows; programs shot specifically for on-demand tiers; and programming vignettes sponsored by advertisers and packaged essentially into long-form advertisements.
For example, gun manufacturer Beretta could shoot a vignette for the Hooks & Bullets on-demand network on topics such as how to choose a gun and other tips, said OLN senior vice president of affiliate sales Becky Ruthven.
Hunting and fishing outfitter Cabela’s would be another sponsorship target for Hook & Bullets, added Harvey, noting that the company sponsored some programming vignettes which OLN ran in December, on topics such as “last-minute holiday tips for field-sports fans.”
Hazardous would also be a good fit for bicycle manufacturer Trek, already a major OLN advertiser, Harvey said.
Hazardous will provide competition for Fox Cable’s Fuel, a digital action-sports channel that debuted in 2003. A source said Fox Cable has talked to the top five major MSOs about supplying them on-demand content from Fuel.
Hazardous and Hooks & Bullets will each offer subscribers 17.5 hours of new programming monthly, and 25% of the lineups on each network will be refreshed weekly, Ruthven said. She said OLN HD, which Comcast has been testing in Richmond, Va., will contain five new hours of HD programming each month.
“We’re estimating by the end of ’05, the VOD programming for both networks [Hazardous and Hooks & Bullets] will be about 80% exclusive to VOD,” Ruthven said. About 20% of the content will be advertising vignettes, she added.
OLN HD titles will include Lance Chronicles, starring five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong; the Gravity Games, Fly Fishing America, National Parks Extreme Adventure; and The Gravity Files.
Cablevision Systems Corp. offers HDTV-equipped subscribers a “High-Def On Demand” channel which contains pay-per-view movies and IMAX titles. But the debut of OLN HD could be the first launch of a dedicated high-definition on-demand channel from a cable programmer.
Hooks & Bullets will feature hunters and anglers such as Roland Martin, Bill Dance, Larry Csonka and Tred Barta; while Hazardous will feature the likes of Armstrong and action-sports stars Bode Miller, Kelly Slater and Dave Mirra.
The channel will also contain BMX races, wakeboarding, adventure racing, skiing, paintball and military competitions.
OLN began supplying on-demand programming to some distributors such as Time Warner Cable and RCN Corp., last summer, including a 30-minute daily highlight program during coverage of the Tour de France.
TVN Entertainment, In Demand and Comcast Media Center, which currently distribute some OLN titles to cable operators, will also distribute Hooks & Bullets, Hazardous and OLN HD.
Ruthven said OLN plans to make a big splash with its new VOD channels in April at the National Show in San Francisco.
Comcast is the only confirmed distributor for the channels, but Ruthven said she also expects wide distribution on Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications Inc. systems.