It’s not often that you find a television network CEO who also writes and directs films. But that’s exactly what Steve Bellamy, CEO and founder of the Ski Channel, did last year with his action sports film, The Story, which won awards at 12 film festivals. He did it again this year with Winter, whose premiere at the Village Theatre in Los Angeles on Dec. 4 was attended by the likes of world-class skier Sean Pettit and actresses Amy Smart and Donna Mills.
“I’ve always been an artistic person as much as a business person,” says Bellamy, who started out as a songwriter and musician.
Winter was shot in nearly 100 locations around the world and shares the history of U.S. skiing as well as tells the stories of skiers such as Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety, women’s ski pioneer Sarah Burke, world record holder Simon Dumont and other action and mountain sport athletes.
Like last year, Bellamy is preparing to take the film on a 300- city tour over the course of ski season to major metropolitan cities, mountain resort towns and film festivals. Ticket sales from the ! lm tour earn revenue for the network, but the real purpose is to market a channel that is hard to find through casual searching.
“We have to do things to make noise, to create awareness that there is a Ski Channel,” Bellamy says. “So as opposed to taking the little marketing dollars we have and trying to make noise that way, we decided that we would make really great content, we would do things like movie tours where other people get involved in promoting and becoming a part of it and really use it as a content play that becomes a great marketing vehicle.”
The Ski Channel launched on Christmas Day 2008 with 11 million households. It is now in 45 million homes, so its distribution is about at the saturation point of households with VOD. The Winter trailer is already airing on the channel to promote the film and drive viewers to its tour dates around the country.
Bellamy says he devotes more time to being concerned about what the product is—a philosophy he also held as founder of the Tennis Channel—as opposed to just focusing on the business. The yearly films are his way of staying involved in the content and connecting to the audience.
“In terms of running a television network, it’s just super important that I have a lot of hand in the programming to make sure it is just really top-notch,” he says.
Bellamy describes his experience launching Ski Channel as “a mixed bag.” While he believes it has done a great job with content, having a greater presence on VOD is harder than he anticipated and the progress of the platform in general is slower than he expected. But the channel has made inroads on the digital front with its Website and Resort Rater application, which have helped build the Ski Channel brand outside the television network.
“I knew that making a Website that was kind of the CNN of skiing would pay many dividends in terms of brand awareness,” Bellamy says. “If that’s where you go to get your ski news, obviously you know there is a Ski Channel.”
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