Name Game: OLN Becomes Versus To Beef Up Image, Competitive Edge

Any network that uses the words "outdoor" and "life" in its title sounds like a pushover. Which is why the channel formerly known as Outdoor Life Network is morphing into Versus. The harder moniker is an attempt to toughen its image among male viewers. Come Monday, OLN will be transformed into Versus, or VS for short.

Bill Bergofin, senior vice president of marketing and promotion for the channel, says the new name is singularly original and tough. "It's immediately recognizable. It creates tension." Bergofin, won't talk specifics, but says the campaign is valued in the "multi-million dollars" range from the paid-media and non-paid media that Versus will buy.

Strong, prominent black and red on-air graphics will frame the network. "It's liquid black," says Bergofin. "We call it Batman-chic, a place where it doesn't rain every day."

A tougher goal was creating a marketing line that would extend through a diverse group of sports programming: NHL, bull riding, Tour de France, boxing, college football, field sports like hunting and fishing, and even reruns of "Survivor." Versus' marketing tagline is: "The competition is on."

"Whether it's "American Idol" or "Survivor," it's all about competition," says Bergofin. "We are going to celebrate people who compete--that rawness and purity of true competition. There will always be something on at Versus that scratches at the competitive gene in all of us."

Versus has done research on 21 million TV viewers who are competitive, but don't watch OLN. "For some reason, they aren't watching us. They may watch reality shows, ESPN or local TV hockey games. But not national TV hockey games on OLN," he says. To get the word out, Versus will purchase spots in print, radio, local and national cable networks, as well as late-night broadcast programs that target young men. For print, Versus will be buying FHM, Sports Illustrated, Maxim, Men's Health, USA Today, and local newspapers, especially in NHL markets.

"We are going to do a fair amount of guerrilla marketing," says Bergofin. This will include signage at sports bars, wild postings and other marketing tactics.

A heavy part of the effort comes with Versus using its own airwaves--a campaign created by its ad agency, Taxi. Versus' key ad selling demo is men 25-54--with heavy emphasis on the younger part of that demo, the typical NHL male viewer. Bergofin says the network's median male target age is 40-42.

In a typical week in May, OLN posted an average 496,000 viewers in prime time, putting it in 22nd place among all cable networks. Its total day viewership had OLN at 134,000 viewers for 32nd place among all cable networks.

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