Outdoor, Post Merger, Targets ‘Lifestyle’

The Kroenke Sports & Entertainment-owned Outdoor Group is fishing for viewers with its three outdoor sports-themed services, Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel and World Fishing Network. Six months after acquiring Sportsman Channel’s parent company — InterMedia Outdoors Holdings — to complete the network trifecta, the group is poised to engage the U.S.’s more than 130 million active outdoor adventure participants and armchair observers.

Outdoor Sportsman Group president and CEO Jim Liberatore spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the group’s positioning of Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel and World Fishing Network as entertainment networks rather than sports channels and the challenges the independently-owned group faces in a crowded cable marketplace.

MCN:What does the newly created Outdoor Sportsman Group bring to the marketplace in terms of its overall brand?

Jim Liberatore: I think, looking at the group as a whole, it brings exclusivity of focus. What I mean by that is we are the exclusive place to come for the 130 million outdoor enthusiasts that are out there who are interested in the outdoor space. Yes there are going to be other places to get [outdoor programming] — Discovery and History and some of these people who are out on the fringes — but primarily we are the only place to come that’s solely dedicated to that content.

MCN:So how do each of the networks differ from each other?

JL: With Outdoor Channel the focus is the masculine adventure genre. It’s a term that we’ve come up with here through our research. What it is, basically, is that outdoor, rugged, danger, excitement that really explores the beauty of the world and of the country.

At the same time the hunting community and fishing community are still very important. Sportsman is going to dial deeper into hunting, fishing and shooting while World Fishing is obviously going to stay about angling, tricks, tournaments and things like that.

MCN:Do you consider the networks sports services or entertainment services, and does your definition play into how the services get distributed?

JL: I do not consider them sports. I consider them much more lifestyle and entertainment networks. And that’s really the switch in the last two years. If you think of baseball or basketball, that’s something people have an affinity towards their home team and then that [sport] they may or may not actively participate in, and that’s about as far as it goes. When you think of the outdoors and hiking and fishing and hunting, these are things that are deeply ingrained in people who participate … it’s their DNA.

MCN:What do you see as the biggest issues for the group going forward?

JL: For us, quite frankly, it’s bundling. We had one operator, who will remain nameless, who told us that he’s getting jammed by Viacom and CBS and just doesn’t have the capacity to do what we want them to do. So consequently in this region, if you turned on your TV on a Saturday afternoon in February — and I counted, this isn’t an exaggeration — there were 19 college basketball games on.

That is ridiculous, but because they get jammed on them, there is really nothing that we can do. So we are out there fighting with what I, again, think is exclusive and compelling programming, but it’s an uphill battle. So we can’t go in and say, “Well, here are 10 networks; if you want one, two or three, you have to take four through 10,” so we have to go in and tell our story. And it has been a process.