While mainstream sports leagues continue to thrive on linear television with high ratings for live sports content, more niche-themed networks are hunting and surfing for their core and passionate fans through subscription video-on-demand and over-the-top offerings that allow viewers to watch at any time from any destination.
OTT services like the Outdoor Sportsman Group’s MyOutdoorTV and Outside TV Features are giving outdoor and action sports enthusiasts an opportunity to watch their favorite original fishing, camping and surfing shows and movies both in the comfort of their own homes, as well as at campsites and beaches.
Providing a digital footprint is imperative for these networks to reach their audiences in a very crowded entertainment arena and as linear cable subscribers continue to decline, industry observers said.
Establishing an OTT Beachhead
“While these networks have linear carriage, if you really want to get content directly into the hands of the key audience members who are looking for this content while they are in the midst of their outdoor activities, [OTT] is a great way to offer it up,” sports TV analyst Lee Berke said.
Indeed, the MyOutdoorTV app bundles original content from the Kroenke Sports & Entertainment-owned Outdoor Sportsman Group’s suite of networks, including Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel and World Fishing Network, into one $9.99 per month service that targets the more than 78 million U.S. outdoor enthusiasts.
Sean Luxton, senior vice president and general manager, MOTV and World Fishing Network, would not disclose subscriber numbers for the two-year-old app — offered on most digital platforms, including Apple TV and Roku TV — but said the service continues to gain subscribers as it rolls out across the digital TV marketplace. “We’re getting the momentum we want domestically and we’re just turning our attention to the global markets — we are available to 195 markets around the world and in five languages,” he said.
The service complements the group’s linear channels and provides an option for eager outdoor enthusiasts looking for specific hunting and fishing content, he said.
“We believe there’s good synergy between the streaming platform and the linear channel,” Luxton said. “We find that viewers like to watch scheduled programming, but if you’re going for a salmon fishing trip in the Colorado mountains and you want to watch programming to help you prepare, then we think the digital offering works well.”
Action sports aficionados are gravitating to Outside TV’s OTT service Outside TV Features for a close look at the top adventure videos in the genre, ranging from mountain skiing to dirtbiking to skydiving, according to Dennis Gillespie, senior vice president of distribution for Outside Television.
Through its app — which features free, original short-form content — viewers can subscribe to the $4.99 per month Outside TV Features service that offers around 150 outdoor/adventure films and documentaries.
“When you look at our free app, it offers content that’s very sticky and engaging,” he said. “We’re trying to put it all under one roof to initially draw viewers in, with the eventual goal of an upsell to the subscription service.”
Niche network executives also see the digital platform as an opportunity to reach young viewers that aren’t subscribing to cable or are not watching linear cable channels.
“The [Outside TV] app is mobile-friendly, so that helps reach the younger viewer that might not be in the traditional space,” said Rob Faris, senior vice president and general manager for Outside TV Features.
MyOutdoorTV’s Luxton added that the digital platform provides viewers with the flexibility to watch content without being tied to a traditional television set or cable subscription. “We believe there’s good synergy between the streaming platform and the linear channel,” he said. “The outdoor audience is very passionate, and they really want to go deep on the stuff they want to do. The great thing about MOTV is if they want to watch 12 hours of content in preparation for an adventure they’re going on, they can do that.”
Not all niche sports networks are sprinting to launch an OTT service. Auto-sports-themed service MavTV is says its effectively reaching its core audience through its linear channel. MavTV senior vice president of content distribution and strategic partnerships Ed Niemi said the network has carriage on streaming services like fuboTV and is negotiating with digital MVPDs like Sling TV and DirecTV now to supplement its carriage on traditional pay TV providers.
Despite the decline of cable subscribers, he said the traditional cable bundle is still effective for the network, which has more than 30 million subscribers.
Bundle Still Has Its Place
“We still feel like the network bundle model is prevalent within the ecosystem,” he said. “Cable may not have 100 million subscribers, but even at 80 million subscribers it still reaches a lot of viewers. We also see the YouTube TVs, the Hulu TVs and the Sling TVs as viable options for us, and we continue to have discussions with all of those platforms so that our viewers do have choices outside of the traditional cable operators.”
Outside TV’s Gillespie said he believes the best option for niche sports services is a balanced approach that offers both traditional tv and new digital services to consumers. “We want to be in all of those businesses, and we think that there are audiences on every platform that will consume long-form linear TV and bite-size content,” he said. “For us, we want to serve the audience wherever they are with the best sports.”
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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