Outdoor Life Network is enjoying an unprecedented uptick in viewership and awareness, primarily attributed to coverage of the Tour de France world cycling competition and the publicity that has generated.
Network executives said OLN's wall-to-wall coverage of American Lance Armstrong's attempt to win the grueling bicycle race for a record-tying fifth consecutive year has provided a platform to expose other outdoor lifestyles event and series programming to new viewers.
With one week left in the nearly month-long Tour, Comcast Corp.-owned OLN has already broken its own ratings record for the race.
OLN's July 13 Tour De France primetime coverage generated a 1.2 primetime household rating, topping the 1.1 rating generated for final-day coverage of last year's event, according to CEO Roger Williams. OLN is accustomed to scoring more in the 0.1 range in primetime.
Overall, the network's daily 12-hour tour coverage has produced a whopping 400% ratings increase over last year's telecasts — and a 200% increase in primetime, Williams said.
The network reairs the race, carried live during the day, in primetime.
"Everyone is talking about declining sports ratings and how sports on television is declining," Williams said. "In the face of all this, our ratings continue to climb. I predict we'll hit a 2 rating by the end of this tour."
While Williams attributes much of this year's interest to Armstrong's quest for five, he said the network's own promotional efforts and tie-ins with operators have created greater awareness for the telecast.
"Until we had the tour, there was no network that carried it every day and showcased it as we do. We treat it like it's our Super Bowl," Williams said.
Indeed, the 53 million-subscriber network has created numerous affiliate-based promotions for the event, to which OLN holds the rights through 2010. The network also exports a daily, network-branded three-minute video news release for cable and broadcast stations.
Williams said the promotional efforts have been successful in attracting casual cycling fans that ordinarily wouldn't watch OLN.
Viewers seem to be sampling other OLN programming. Williams said the network's year-to-year ratings for the first six months ticked up 40% from 2002. The network averaged a 0.1 primetime rating during second-quarter 2003, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.
"If we can get people to come to us for numerous days during the month of July, hopefully we can get them to come back in August and September and they'll know what OLN is and know where to find it on the dial," Williams said.