OLN Prepares Promo Power Play

Oct 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

OLN is counting on the promotional power inherent in its NHL games to help it score goals for its new original programming, including “Rock the Boat,” OLN’s version of “Monster Garage.”

“Rock the Boat,” launching Nov. 6, features John West and a colorful crew of California-based Ultra Custom Boats, who design and build a special watercraft on each episode.

OLN will also promote another new show, “Wanted: Ted or Alive,” featuring rock star and hunting enthusiast Ted Nugent, during the hockey telecasts.

OLN’s strategy over the past 18 months has been to grow the network beyond a narrow core of hunting and fishing enthusiasts, said Gavin Harvey, president of OLN. “Now we have the attention that the network deserves, and that’s all the result of the NHL,” he said.

In its first hockey telecast last Wednesday, OLN scored its highest ratings ever for programming other than its Tour de France coverage. It was OLN’s most-watched Wednesday night among households, men 18 to 49, men 25 to 54 and total viewers. And it was the network’s highest-rated telecast ever among men 18 to 34.

The New York Rangers’ win over the Philadelphia Flyers drew a 0.4 rating, up from the 0.1 rating the network had been averaging in that time slot. The game was up against 14 other opening-night telecasts shown in local markets.

The NHL did not play last season because of a labor dispute. OLN acquired the rights in August for $135 million over two years, plus an option for another season at $72.45 million after ESPN sought to lower its $60 million rights payments to the league.

“These ratings prove that hockey is back in a big way,” Mr. Harvey said. “My hat is off to the OLN production team for all of the hours they’ve put in this past month in order to produce an excellent first telecast.”

OLN intends to take advantage of that spotlight. “We use all of these big events as tentpoles to launch other new shows, so we’ll be promoting a couple of new shows, like ‘Rock the Boat,'” Mr. Harvey said.

The network’s research shows that viewers-particularly men 18 to 49 and men 25 to 54-who watch hockey might like some of its other programming.

“The way all of this works together is that it’s all exciting competition. It’s spectacle, it’s adrenaline-charged, and hopefully the NHL will be a platform to expose people to this,” he said. “Ultimately you hope that people who come to OLN for one thing see a few other things and go, ‘This is pretty cool.'”

Mr. Harvey wants the network to have a mix of singular events like the Tour de France, ongoing events like the Professional Bull Riders Tour and original programming to bridge the gap between events.

Larry Novenstern, senior VP and director of national buying at Deutsch, said that some hockey viewers will watch other OLN offerings. “I’m sure what they’re going to do on-channel is cross-promote,” he said, “so you’re going to see a lot of those programs promoted in the NHL and vice versa. You’ll probably see it across Comcast.”

OLN’s showing an indoor sport like hockey rather than its usual fare of outdoors sports is part of a trend in which cable networks are moving beyond their niches in the pursuit of bigger audiences, Mr. Novenstern said.

And while Comcast executives have played down growing OLN into a competitor for ESPN in the professional sports market, Mr. Novenstern noted that there are NFL and Major League Baseball game packages that might be available. “I don’t think Comcast is going to stop now,” he said.

John Mansell, senior analyst at Kagan Research, said Comcast may also want to acquire additional sports rights to position itself against the satellite and phone companies.

“The program access rules that apply to vertically integrated cable operators, those may come off the book at some time in the future,” he said. “So in a world where you’ve got a bunch of different distributors, including the Internet, I think it behooves any of those distributors to move more into content, presumably exclusive and unique content that’s relatively TiVo-proof.”

Mr. Harvey declined to comment on the status of any talks with the NHL or any other sports league.

On episodes of “Rock the Boat,” the crew will build themed boats, including one with glowing bull’s horns designed with cowboys from the Professional Bull Riders that will be auctioned to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. In another episode, Ultra Custom Boats will try to build the loudest boat in the world.

“Wanted: Ted or Alive” is a reality show “that takes city slickers and they get schooled on the outdoors with the Motor City Madman himself,” Mr. Harvey said. “We think Ted Nugent is a dynamic personality. I think he’s great on TV. Again, it’s a new angle for us, and we hope that gets a lot of attention.”

OLN will also promote new episodes of its biography series “Fearless.”

High Q3 Ratings

In the first quarter the network will also telecast its miniseries on the Paris-Dakkar endurance race, and the Iditarod, which Mr. Harvey called “a great spectacle. It’s Alaska, it’s big country, it’s dogs, it’s competition, it’s endurance, it’s sacrifice.”

In the third quarter, OLN had the highest ratings in its history, up 41 percent in households. It marked the 12th consecutive quarter of growth among men 18 to 49.

“I can tell you that with all of the success that we’ve had, which has culminated in the last few months, that the attention that we’ve gotten by announcing that we’re going to launch the NHL on OLN has been like nothing that we’ve done,” he said.

With the NHL on the schedule, it has been much easier to get noticed.

“There’s a lot of editorial coverage of it, and it’s not like we have to work very hard to generate interest in what’s happening, as we have with some of our more off-the-mainstream sports. This is fully mainstream,” Mr. Harvey said. “Sportswriters are writing about it like crazy, they’re talking about it on the radio and on TV and that helps a lot. It really helps a lot when it becomes part of the general zeitgeist.”