Werner Heads Outdoors

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Former ESPN chief operating officer Roger Werner is returning to the cable-TV sports arena as president and CEO of The Outdoor Channel.

Werner will replace current CEO Perry Massie, who will retire in November. Along with Massie, he will sit on the Outdoor Channel Holdings board of directors.

Unclear is the future status of longtime channel president Andy Dale. Werner said he hopes Dale will stay with the company on a consulting and advisory basis.

Massie said Werner will bring a quantum leap in credibility when conducting carriage negotiations.

“He knows what the channel needs to look like on-air and he knows what the contracts need to look like to get a deal done,” Massie said.

Werner takes over the 13-year-old hunting-and-fishing channel that only counts 27 million subscriber households. “We have a clean balance sheet, we have $50 million in cash, we have [27 million] subscriber homes, we have 10 years of brand equity in our editorial segment,” he said. “What we're now going to do is to take it to the next level.”

Werner said the network will “reinvest” in its cable and satellite relationships, although he would not specify any incentives Outdoor will offer to carriers.

The network will resist distribution on sports tiers. Given its low license fee — less than 10 cents, according to network officials — Werner said Outdoor is better positioned on a more broadly distributed tier.

“We don't underestimate the difficulties that operators face today with margin pressure, but sports-tier distribution is not a solution to that problem in this case.”

While continuing to mine its core categories — in which Werner said Outdoor is the clear leader with the addition of more mainstream sports by Comcast's Versus, the former OLN — Warner noted that the network will commission additional programming outside those genres to broaden its audience.

“We don't plan to abandon in any significant way the existing hunting and fishing franchises, but we will try to supplement and improve the [programming] quality,” he said.

Starting in 1982, Werner served as COO of ESPN for six years, before joining cable pioneer Bill Daniels to create the Prime Sports regional networks in the early 1990s.

After the sale of the networks to News Corp., Werner led SpeedVision, currently known as Speed Channel, and OLN from 1995 to 2001.

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