With upgrades on Comcast and RCN systems, Outdoor Channel in September scored the biggest single month in distribution gains on the cable front in its 19-year-history, one that has it in shouting distance of another affiliate milestone.
Randy Brown, executive vice president, affiliate sales and marketing at Outdoor Channel, said the network added 1.1 million Comcast and RCN subscribers during September. The increase pushed the independent’s subscriber count north of 39 million and puts it on pace to boost its base by 2 million overall in 2012. From 2008 through 2012, Outdoor Channel has improved its sub count by 12 million.
The gains resulted from package upgrades. In the case of RCN, Outdoor Channel, which last year was repositioned from sports tiers to digital basic, now resides on its Signature Package, the basic level of service that includes the likes of ESPN, Discovery Channel and CNN, said Brown. Outdoor Channel is now available on RCN's Signature Package throughout its footprint in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C.
From the Comcast perspective, Brown said Outdoor Channel moved from the sports tier to the nation’s largest provider’s Digital Preferred package in its home market of Philadelphia and neighboring areas in New Jersey. That completes Outdoor’s migration to Digital Preferred throughout Comcast’s footprint.
“This was the last upgrade to Digital Preferred with Comcast. It’s really compelling to be in front of their corporate epicenter, where executives can now see us in this new position and the real value Outdoor Channel offers as a service,” said Brown.
All told, Outdoor Channel, which has deals with all major cable, satellite and telco distributors and smaller providers through its master contract with the National Cable Television Cooperative, is available to 97 million homes.
Brown says the Comcast and RCN build-ups have Outdoor Channel nearing the 40 million-subscriber homes, a mark he forecasts the network will reach next year.
“That’s a big psychological milestone with all of our constituencies,” Brown explained. “It’s important for our employees and the producers we work with on programming, as well on Madison Avenue and Wall Street, since we’re a public company.”
Brown says that Outdoor will log more growth in the years to come given the quality and appeal of its programming, as well as “economics that reward broader carriage with lower rates.” He declined to offer specifics.
“As cable continues to push digital distribution, there will be organic brand movement and sub gains,” said Brown, noting that Outdoor is not only striving to upgrade from sports tiers, but to basic carriage, where it has already reached digital status.
Although its position as an independent means it can’t benefit from multiple network leverage in negotiations, standing alone does have its benefits, according to Brown.
“It certainly gives you an increased focus and it allows you to be nimble and work on local relationships,” he noted, saying the recent upgrades with Comcast were made with the Philadelphia system and in the field with RCN.
He talked up Outdoor’s ability to execute marketing plans like it has with Comcast as a key differentiator. He pointed to events it hosted with Xfinity and Major League Baseball clubs in Chicago and Boston. “There is a strong affinity among those who enjoy the outdoor lifestyle and baseball,” he said, adding that working on event with the Philadelphia Phillies will be among the programs Outdoor discusses with Comcast for its home market in 2013.
Internationally, Outdoor continues to make strides after launching in August 2010. It now reaches nearly 6 million full-time subscribers in over 45 countries through partnerships with London-based Chello Zone and Singapore-based Multi Channels Asia Brown expects those numbers to soon grow to 50 nations and 10 million subs.