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Outdoor Channel's Aim: International Expansion

Outdoor Channel is poised to take its programming and name outside of America.
The hunting, fishing and adventure programmer has reached deals with a pair of international distributors that will establish Outdoor Channel high-definition and standard-format services throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia.
The Temecula, Calif.-headquartered company -- which over the past year has added 5.2 million homes to lift its subscriber base to 35.6 million in the U.S., making it the second-fastest-growing network, according to Nielsen -- reached an exclusive agreement with Chello Zone, a subsidiary of Liberty Global Inc.'s international division Chellomedia that will extend Outdoor Channel to Europe, Africa and build on its toehold in the Middle East.
Chello Zone is a London-based international broadcaster and distributor of thematic television channels, which operates a portfolio of 11 fully-owned and joint venture channel brands across the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) region, reaching more than 160 million homes worldwide in more than 100 countries.

Under the deal, Outdoor will supply its library of HD programming and scheduling expertise to Chello Zone, which in turn will provide sales and marketing services, language versioning and satellite uplinking as it launches Outdoor Channel networks in EMEA, according to Randy Brown, executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing at Outdoor Channel.

Similarly, Outdoor Channel has inked an exclusive multiyear agreement with Multi Channels Asia, the Singapore-based distributor of TV networks in Asia and the Pacific. Under the partnership, MCA will have exclusive access to distribute and market Outdoor Channel HD, in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and India, starting in October. The initial deployments are expected to be available to over 1.5 million households in Korea, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Brown said MCA is expected to announce specific launch dates in those nations at The Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA) show from Oct. 25-28 in Hong Kong.
Brown said the pacts with Chello Zone and MCA are part of Outdoor Channel's global strategy, whose goal is to expand its revenue base, develop the service's brand worldwide and ultimately reach some 15 million international homes -- including launches in Latin America in 2011 -- within five years.

"This has been some two-and-a-half years in the making," said Brown. "We're very excited about the growth opportunities abroad."

Outdoor Channel last spring crossed to Middle Eastern shores via Orbit Showtime Networks as part of a package of programming services from Food Network, Discovery, Nat Geo Wild and Fox Sports. Brown said Outdoor reaches some 50,000 homes there with a six-hour programming loop that will become a fully scheduled service under the Chello relationship in September.
In Asia, Outdoor was part of a seven-month business-to-business test in the offices of cable operators. "They got to see our product. It validated that it was high-quality and would resonate with viewers," said Brown.
He noted that with some 180 million TV homes in Europe and over 250 million in Asia, Outdoor Channel has a real chance to gain an upper hand in those continents as "a first mover."

He said none of the network's competitors in North America -- Versus, Sportsman Channel, World Fishing Network -- has an international presence across the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Sporting a plethora of high-definition programming -- Outdoor is the only full-time service in the category broadcasting 100% in HD, while Outdoor HD counts some 7.3 million homes in the States -- affords the programmer opportunities to fortify its presence abroad.
"Europe and Asia are a couple of years behind the U.S. in the adoption of HD. Distributors are very interested in increasing their advanced set-top penetration and offering HD packages to their subscribers," said Brown. "Having an extensive HD library is one of our main assets as we look to grow globally."
By relying on Chello Zone and MCA's infrastructure and contacts in their respective market territories, Brown said the partnership arrangements minimize Outdoor's cash outlays and keeps the company's balance sheet clean. Moreover, it "effectively manages risk, while building network assets. We realized we could not build a significant global business by meeting with customers we didn't know in markets we didn't necessarily understand.
Brown also noted that these arrangements could also put Outdoor in position to make equity investments or outright acquisitions should its partners being inclined to sell down the road.
In the interim, Outdoor will not only build a new revenue base via the annual license fees it will collect for furnishing its programming, but burnish its moniker around the globe via the use of its name on international networks, as well as through its branding and promotional materials.
Outdoor will work with Chello Zone and MCA in selecting appropriate programming from its library for the attendant markets. "Asia is much more interested in fishing and motor sports, while European viewers are more attuned to hunting. Australia and New Zealand are more outdoor lifestyle-oriented," said Brown.
With some of its programming already shot in locations where its partners do business, Brown said it was too early to say whether Outdoor "might increase its programming by X to produce more international" fare.
At the same time, he said Chello Zone and MCA could wind up producing or commissioning shows that could be imported to Outdoor Channel in the U.S.