Universal Sports Launches Ad Campaign To Support Move To Fee-Based Carriage

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Looking to upgrade from multicast positioning to fee-based carriage by year's end, Universal Sports is launching an ad campaign aimed at raising awareness and getting consumers to call their TV providers.

The "I Want Universal Sports" consumer and trade campaign will begin this week, with promo spots featuring on-air talent on the network's air and website, as well as ads in local print and digital outlets in priority markets. Messaging will feature the above tagline and a toll-free number, 1-800-55-GET-US, aimed at connecting them to TV providers.

A joint venture of Leo Hindery's InterMedia Partners and Comcast's NBC Sports Group, Universal Sports is currently available in some 55 million homes in all of the top 10 DMAs and 20 of the top 25 via multicast carriage and its first affiliate deal with DirecTV. The nation's top DBS provider made Universal Sports available to all of its customers via a freeview in July and now offers it on a sports package. License fee terms were not disclosed.

I Want Universal Sports ad

David Sternberg, CEO of Universal Sports, said the network launched via multicast on broadcast stations in 2008 and after monitoring that approach determined that transitioning the service to a fee-based cable network was "the best way going forward." He noted that contracts with the stations expire by year-end and are "synced up in a way to facilitate" this migration.

Sternberg said the network has engaged in such talks with cable, satellite and telco distributors since he joined the company in 2010, with an eye toward increasing distribution for the service, which presents an array of Olympic- and endurance-style sports, competitions and championships.

He noted that Universal Sports is in "advanced discussions with a number of MVPDs. We expect to have some announcements very soon and throughout the fourth quarter. "

The campaign is slated to run through the balance of the year with tactics changing as new distribution partners and carriage in markets are secured. Tent-pole network programming will be used to inform viewers of the switch, including promos running on its coverage of the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup, Kona Ironman, the Gymnastics Worlds, New York City Marathon, alpine skiing, figure skating and its countdown to London Olympics fare.

Sternberg said the network will also ply on-site grass-roots marketing initiatives at a number of events, including the NYC Marathon and Skate America in Los Angeles.

Part of Universal Sports' pitch for carriage centers on primary and secondary research indicating that its affluent, highly-educated and gender-balanced audience has affinity for these types of sports throughout the year. The network also over-indexes against premium channel, high-speed data and high-definition subscribership.

Speaking of HD, Sternberg said Universal Sports will launch an enhanced signal in January, an offering that was previously hamstrung by multicasting bandwidth constraints.

Since Universal Sports holds the rights to its myriad sports properties, it can also present video-on-demand and "TV Everywhere" services. Sternberg said DirecTV will launch an authenticated product with Universal Sports in the fourth quarter.