Jamie Davis says he arrived at Versus at the right time.
Davis, who succeeded Gavin Harvey as president, has been at the helm of the Comcast Corp.-owned service since the Tuesday after Labor Day. He says the network's National Hockey League franchise and mixed-martial-arts circuit World Extreme Cagefighting have triggered plenty of audience growth, including a bevy of younger male viewers.
“Versus has been on a roll. Over the past two years, the median age has decreased from 47 to 43,” said Davis. “Year to date, we're in the top five of all cable networks in growth with males 18 to 34 [ahead 59%] and 18 to 49 [up 48%].”
And Davis, who spent the past 12 years with ESPN STAR Sports in Asia, believes there's more on the horizon with the Indy Racing League, an upcoming revamp of Versus' digital strategy and more original productions.
Versus, which counts some 74 million subscribers, continues to soar. Davis said Time Warner Cable launched Versus to 214,000 homes in Cincinnati on Oct. 3. Last month, the network was pushed from Armstrong's digital package to expanded basic, resulting in a gain of 70,000 homes in Pittsburgh.
Last season, Versus recorded major regular-season gains with the NHL, scoring 50% ratings (0.3) and 28% viewership (272,417) upticks. The postseason was the sport's strongest on cable since 2002, culminating with the network's most-watched telecast ever, 2.54 million viewers for game-2 coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Davis also thinks Versus will drive a hit with IRL. In August, the network inked a 10-year pact with the racing circuit calling for a minimum of 13 races annually.
“We're going to spend more time with the telecasts. We're going to educate the viewers, expose them to more elements of the sport,” he said. “IRL absolutely has huge potential.”
Davis also sees more prospective gains through Versus' revamped approach to its new-media properties. One of Davis' initial moves was to hire one-time ESPN executive Neil Scarbrough as vice president of digital media.
“Versus must serve fans any time and any place he or she is ready,” he said. “We want the two-way experience with fans on the Internet, with broadband and mobile.” Davis expects to see the first fruits of Scarbrough's digital labor early next year.
He's also awaiting reaction to the Oct. 14 debut of Sports Soup, an irreverent look at sports, which is receiving promotional assists from the Comcast family of SportsNets and comes from the same production team behind E!'s series The Soup.
Davis said there are other projects under consideration, although he wouldn't tip his development hand.
Davis acknowledges that Versus has become more “horizontal, but not completely flat, with several vertical pillars.”
Those also include the Professional Bull Riders circuit, the signature Tour de France and a continued emphasis on field and stream sports that date to the channel's Outdoor Life Network roots.
Now in year two of a 10-year plan, Versus also wants to take a look at such top-flight properties as NASCAR, NFL and MLB.
He said that with the IRL buy, there is “nothing must-have that is available right now” — for now.