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Harvey Not Migrating With Versus

When Versus’ executive team relocates to parent Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters in June, network president Gavin Harvey won’t be heading south.

For both personal and professional reasons, Harvey, who joined the service then known as Outdoor Life Network in 2004, before overseeing its metamorphoses to OLN and then Versus in 2006, has elected not to migrate from the channel’s current home in Stamford, Conn.

“I’ve moved my family three times since 1999-2000. We have two kids, 10 and seven, and they’re thriving in Connecticut,” he said.

Harvey’s career included stints at Fox Cable, Viewer’s Choice, which became In Demand, before working in Los Angeles at Comcast-owned E! and spin-off Style. He then moved to Connecticut to lead OLN. 

But the decision extends beyond the familial. In Harvey’s view, his executive acumen and skills set are best-suited for startups or networks in transitional modes.

“A lot of my effectiveness lies in re-branding. I’ve been successful in what I was hired to do here in terms of adding properties, increasing distribution and ad sales,” he said. ”We still need to amplify it more; the job’s never done.”

Under his watch, Versus has grown from 55 million homes to 74 million and become a more mainstream sports service, complementing its field and stream, Tour de France and bull-riding coverage, with action from the ranks of college football and basketball, tennis and World Extreme Cagefighting. Earlier this week, Versus renewed its deal to become the exclusive cable carrier of the National Hockey League through 2011.

The network, though, was thwarted in its bid for pro football, when an eight-game primetime package went to NFL Network.

Last year represented Versus’ most-watched ever among households, total viewers and all key male demos, with gains in primetime and late-night. Save for November, the last five months of 2007 produced all-time performance in primetime and total-day, among households and male demos, according to network officials.

Versus’ executive team relocation is expected to be completed in June. The net’s ad sales and public relations staff will shift to Comcast’ Manhattan offices, while production remains in Stamford, home to a new studio. For his part, Harvey still figures to spend some time in the City of Brotherly Love.

“I’m committed through the end of 2008. I’ll be wherever they need me to be,” he said. “If I have to move to Philly for six months, that’s part of the sacrifice.”

Comcast officials said the company is in the final stages of a search to find Harvey’s successor.

“Gavin is an outstanding executive who has done a stellar job in transitioning the Outdoor Life Network into a broad-based sports channel Versus, which is on a wonderful growth trajectory,” said Comcast programming group president Jeff Shell. “We would love for Gavin to continue to run it, but understand his decision to look for the next challenge, hopefully elsewhere in the Comcast family.”

Before he looks too far ahead, though, Harvey surveys the present.

“It’s hard to leave. I think a lot of things have aligned. There is a synchronicity, a plan for the next 10 years,” he said. “We need a fresh pair of legs, a fresh pair of eyes for the next phase of Versus.”

As to his journey, Harvey is confident: “I’ve always moved to the right thing. I hope the next job will be the right one, too.”