OLN Beefs Up Its Upfront

May 30, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Outdoor Life Network, in its first year as part of the new advertising sales group of Comcast-owned cable networks, is looking to step up this summer with a bigger upfront advertising season. It has already seen results for its upcoming premium Tour de France programming.

For the network’s coverage of the bicycle race in France, featuring cycling champion Lance Armstrong’s final race for the yellow jersey, OLN has made deals with new advertisers, including Capital One Financial, IBM and others. About two-thirds of OLN’s advertising inventory for the race has been sold so far.

Others advertisers include Honda Motors for its Pilot SUV and its all-terrain vehicles, Infiniti Motors, Jaguar, Land Rover, Pacific Life Insurance, Energizer, AMD (a microchip manufacturer), Trek bicycles and Bissell vacuum cleaners.

This year OLN is promising a 2.0 daily cume Nielsen rating for the Tour de France, which would be a 10 percent improvement over the 1.8 rating a year ago, when Mr. Armstrong broke the record by winning his sixth Tour de France race.

OLN had estimated last year’s race would grow 50 percent over 2002’s race to a 2.2 rating, but it grew by only 25 percent. John West, senior VP of advertising sales for OLN, said the event had minor make-good issues.

Third-quarter sporting events can be a hard sell. Spots on the Tour de France, NASCAR, British Open golf and Major League Baseball sell on a scatter basis when scatter budgets are released, typically in mid-June. Unfortunately, that’s about the same time media agency executives are involved in the bigger upfront buying process.

Turning to the upfront, OLN, which reaches 64 million cable homes, is counting on sharing in the leverage provided by the new Comcast Network Advertising Sales, which hopes to yield more revenues by packaging networks for buyers. “Our upfront story this year is that we are part of a portfolio of networks,” Mr. West said. “We never had that before. It has already opened new relationships and new categories.”

In addition to OLN, Comcast networks include E! Entertainment Television, Style, G4 and The Golf Channel. Ad sales are headed by former E! sales executive Dave Cassaro, who is the expanded division’s president.

“He’ll probably open more doors and get them more meetings,” said Ray Warren, managing director for OMD USA. “There probably isn’t a whole lot of synergy between OLN and E! and The Golf Channel, for example. I don’t see a bundled deal there. But I guarantee you this, [Comcast sales] doesn’t hurt them.”

Comcast cable networks, such as OLN, will be pulled along by E!, the biggest advertising network of the group. E! pulled in $291.1 million in advertising revenue in 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

One rumored advertiser could represent a sign of ultimate cooperation among cable networks. That advertiser is a competitor: The Discovery Channel, which sponsors Lance Armstrong’s cycling team and is looking for ways to market its association with the team.

However, a Discovery Channel spokeswoman said no deal is currently in the works.

OLN wouldn’t take Discovery tune-in ads in any case. It doesn’t want viewers to change channels for a Discovery show during Tour de France coverage.