OLN to Make ‘Versus’ New ID

Apr 24, 2006  •  Post A Comment

To Gavin Harvey, there’s no contest between his network’s current name, OLN, and the new moniker it will adopt in September: Versus.

“When it becomes associated with the type of events we have… it will take on an equity and it will be a great name. Not just a good name-it will be a great name and one that people will remember for years to come,” said Mr. Harvey, president of the Comcast-owned channel.

Last year, OLN was Outdoor Life Network, and the “outdoor” part of its name appeared to be a bit of a problem as Comcast seemed poised to take a run at ESPN as a broad-based sports network.

Comcast outbid ESPN for rights to the National Hockey League, whose games are played in indoor arenas, but missed out on an even bigger score when the National Football League rejected a Comcast bid for a package of late-season Thursday and Saturday games and opted to put them on its own NFL Network instead.

Now Comcast is considered a potential player for some Major League Baseball rights that will be available next season, though Mr. Harvey declined to speculate about potential rights negotiations.

But baseball would appear to be a fit as the network moves from hunting and fishing to bigger events in search of a broader, younger audience and bigger advertising revenues.

“We … made the big shift last July when we decided that we were going to focus the network on competition and not just outdoor competition,” he said. “Although we will continue to be a leader in outdoor sports and adventure and all the things we’ve been known for the first 10 years of our existence, we need to open up the brand.”

The new name is good news for the similarly named Outdoor Channel, which will continue to focus on the traditional outdoor sports of hunting and fishing.

“I honestly believe it will lessen the confusion we’ve had between the channels since they launched,” said Andy Dale, CEO and co-president of The Outdoor Channel.

Mr. Dale plans to use the name change to draw a sharper distinction for affiliates and viewers between his channel’s focus on “hooks and bullets” programming and OLN’s attraction to balls and bats. “It might make our lives a bit easier,” he said.

OLN has been licensing the Outdoor Life name from Outdoor Life magazine, and Mr. Harvey said the network would have discussions with the magazine about that relationship.

Although the new name won’t take effect until September-just before the start of the 2006-07 NHL season-OLN plans to begin mentioning the new name on-air during its coverage of the Stanley Cup finals next month. It will also be mentioned during OLN’s coverage of its other big events, such as the Tour de France and the Professional Bull Riders tour, so that viewers can get comfortable with it.

“It’s not going to be a secret we’ll reveal to people at the very end,” Mr. Harvey said.

Hitting All Budgets

A name change is a massive undertaking that affects the network’s distributors, advertisers and program suppliers. Mr. Harvey declined to say how much the change would cost, but in addition to a media campaign in the fall, “It’s hitting all budgets” of the departments within the network. “They have to change everything they have, from on-air graphics to stationery,” he said.

But in Mr. Harvey’s view, it should be worth it because he really likes the name Versus, which emerged after a year’s worth of research.

“We really like the idea that nobody owns this word in this way and it speaks perfectly to what we want to be about,” he said. “When you’re thinking in terms of this network delivering a range of experiences of man versus man, man versus nature, man versus beast, team versus team, etc., that name really does help link all the different genres together … underneath this competitive umbrella.”

He also prefers it to the acronyms that are so common in the television business. And in research, sports fans liked it, he said.

At first the network’s new logo will spell out the word Versus, but the abbreviation Vs. will also be used as an icon and an identifier.

In this digital age, the network must also find a new online domain name. Versus.com is already used by online hosting company Fusepoint. Versus.tv is registered to Bradley Friedrich of Mamaroneck, N.Y. He did not return phone calls. Clicking on VS.com produces an offer for live video chat. Versustv.com and VSTV.com are also taken.

“We’re exploring a lot of domains around Versus,” said Mr. Harvey, without saying which one the network will pursue. “We’re comfortable that we’re going to get something that is going to be an easy domain for people to associate with our name.”