Emerging Net Hopes To Be Tour De Force With Tour De France

For the Outdoor Life Network, there's a lot riding on cyclist Lance Armstrong's attempt to win a record sixth consecutive Tour de France.

The channel recently launched a $20-million-dollar advertising campaign tied to its wall-to-wall coverage of the tour, which has been an OLN staple and the event that draws the highest heat among viewers and advertisers.

OLN is based in Stamford, Conn., and owned by Philadelphia-based Comcast. The analog channel has distribution in 58 million homes and envious comps in several key demographics, including men ages 18-49, and especially upper-income men in this group. OLN is all over adventure sports, including a core constituency of hunting and fishing enthusiasts along with others who come to the channel that programming as well as bull-riding championships, sailing races, and, of course, the Tour de France.

While it's got a stable of enthusiasts who come in and out of the channel to satisfy their particular yen for outdoor adventure, new OLN President Gavin Harvey wants them to stay longer. A lot longer. Harvey wants enthusiasts of one athletic pursuit to become connoisseurs of the competition and behind-the-scenes drama that OLN provides, as well as the main event.



In a recent interview with MediaDailyNews, Harvey outlined his plans for the channel over the next six to eight months. Another key task: Broadening the base among television viewers who may think that just because they don't hunt or fish, OLN isn't for them. That's precisely the misperception that Harvey, who came to OLN from an evp post at E! Entertainment earlier this year, wants to change.

"The audience is always hunting for the best thing on television at that time. We want the brand OLN to be among the first choices they make," Harvey said. "We've got a lot of great programming. This is not a niche. This is a huge category of sports activities, adventure stories, that we own as a category and we can mine."

These activities, which Harvey calls "sports in their ascendancies," also include coverage of this year's Gravity Games. It's action sports like these that help OLN attract the 12- to-34-year-olds who seem more averse to the traditional team sports that past generations grew up on.

"I don't want the price of entry to OLN to be that you have to participate in a sport to want to watch us," Harvey said. "You should want to watch us because we tell the stories really well, and that we've introduced you to athletes and the drama in a way that is interesting."

Expect forays into programming that will put OLN's particular spin on popular genres.

"We're going to build out a whole new generation of series programming based on standard television formats like biography series, the travel shows, the countdown show, a reality show," Harvey said.

One recent programming investment is a 13-part documentary called "The Lance Chronicles: The Real Life Saga of Armstrong's Quest For Six." The series began in late April and offers unparalleled access to the training and life of the champion cyclists. There will be another Tour de France documentary before the event coverage begins as well as "The Gravity Files," an inside look at some of the people who will compete in the Gravity Games.

OLN will also reach into its genre to do a countdown-style show. The first one slated for air is "OLN's Top 25 Stories of Courage," which will offer 25 stories of people--known and unknown--who have done courageous things.

Expect more in the way of product placement and branded entertainment, as well. It's already a part of the channel, like Ford F-150's sponsorship of the bull-riding championship.

"We think certain shows and events lend themselves more to really optimizing product integration, finding creative ways that are no apologetic or offensive in any way. The audience is ready and accepting of it--they like it," Harvey said.

Look for more series-style programming around the Gravity Games and elsewhere on the channel within the next few months. But that doesn't mean that OLN will abandon its core viewers, the hunters and fishers whose hobbies sparked the channel in July 1995. Harvey said OLN will still cater to those viewers as well.

"It's about elevating the channel and taking it to the next step," Harvey said. "We've got a lot of great stuff on the channel."

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