Sportsman Channel Has Outdoor Series In Sight

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In a move aimed at bolstering the programming roster of The Sportsman Channel, InterMedia Outdoors will migrate nine series currently airing on Outdoor Channel to its service during 2008-09.

Sportsman Channel parent InterMedia Outdoors, the outdoor category conglomerate owned by InterMedia Partners VII, the private equity fund run by Leo Hindery, the former Tele-Communications, Inc. and Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network executive, told Outdoor Channel of its decision May 14

InterMedia Outdoors CEO Jeff Paro said he informed Jeff Wayne of Outdoor Channel on Wednesday evening that it would not extend the contracts for such series as In-FishermanTelevision and Guns & Ammo Television.

“We thought we were moving in the right direction, but their last offer didn’t work for us. The decision was to go ahead with our strategy of moving the programming onto The Sportsman Channel,” said Paro, noting that the talks broke down over rates, as well as exclusivity issues.

Paro said InterMedia was seeking a short-term contract that didn’t prohibit the series from also airing on Sportsman.

“They knew our strategy was to move the programming to The Sportsman Channel. Our talks over the past couple of months seemed constructive,” he said. “There was a framework that could have allowed for some windows of exclusivity on TOC, but for the series to also air on The Sportsman Channel.”

For its part, Outdoor Channel said it elected not to renew the InterMedia programs as it looks to buttress its own lineup through such shows as Bill Dance Saltwater, Fly Fishing the World and Gore-Tex Outdoor Adventures, as well as deals with such conservation groups as Safari Club International and Pheasants Forever.

“As the leader in outdoor TV we have placed enormous emphasis on programming quality. We have made tremendous strides, which we believe are evident in our ratings growth,” said Roger Werner, president and CEO of Outdoor Channel, in a statement. “We are making room for more Outdoor Channel original productions as well as higher-quality programming like our recently announced LL Bean’s Guide to the Outdoors. In this quest to acquire the best content in the genre, we will be dropping some shows, as we only have room for the highest quality shows with the best ratings. ”

In addition to In-Fisherman Television and Guns & Ammo Television, the other series that will all eventually wind up on Sportsman’s air: Guns & Ammo Television Classics, North American Whitetail Television, Bowhunter Magazine TV, Personal Defense TV, Shallow Water Angler, In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail and Petersen’s Hunting Adventure Television.  

The series will begin to roll off of Outdoor Channel in the fourth quarter of this year, according to InterMedia officials, before all become available to Sportsman sometime during third quarter 2009.

Paro said the series have delivered strong ratings for Outdoor Channel, which currently counts some 31.8 million subscribers. He said that depending on the season, “two-thirds of the series finish in their top 10 to 15 shows” on a weekly cume basis. In particular, Paro said that North American Whitetail Television, Bowhunter Magazine TV and In-Fisherman Television have been top performers.

An Outdoor Channel spokesman offered a different view, stating that of the programs produced by InterMedia, only one had scored in “the top 10 in any month over the past year; most never even made it to the top 20.”

InterMedia Outdoors' holdings are vast: it’s the largest provider of outdoor content through the 11 TV shows it produces; 17 magazines it owns; a network of 23 related Web sites; and a trio of radio networks. All told, InterMedia properties reach 48 million hunting/fishing enthusiasts on a monthly basis, according to officials.

The company, which acquired Sportsman Channel last June, wants to leverage those properties and invest additional resources to boost the network, which currently counts 3 million full-time cable subscribers, as well as programming blocks on a number of TV stations around the nation. Expanding the sub base will also serve to better integrate advertising packages.

InterMedia executives see opportunities, not only because of its overall outdoor scope, but since it is committed to “getting it right. These very passionate consumers know what they want and that we have the expertise,” Paro said, adding that others in the field, ESPN Outdoors, Outdoor, Versus and [Maxium Adventure Network], have “drifted. We’re the only network dedicated solely to hunting and fishing.”

Paro said that with the data gathered from the various InterMedia vehicles, Sportsman can help cable operators identify where hunting/fishing enthusiasts live and craft carriage tactics, whether aimed at new customers or to up-sell existing subscribers, accordingly. The company also has a host of content that could be developed into video-on-demand fare, he said.

In addition, InterMedia also has a number of shows -- about ice fishing and tactical arms, among them -- in various stages of development. In all likelihood, they would join Sportsman’s lineup later in 2008 or next year, as will the series that currently air on Outdoor Channel.

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