Bringing the great Outdoor to the small screen


As a stand-alone cable network and a public company, Outdoor Channel is pretty unique, and successful. COO Tom Hornish tells RBR/TVBR that the channel has a “very passionate audience.” He also cleared up for us the mystery of why the Outdoor Channel debuts its new program lineup in Q3, rather than as the official TV season begins in September.

Hornish says the traditional September-May season is a holdover from the old days when there were really only three networks and cable has been moving away from that model. But there’s an even more important reason for the timing of Outdoor Channel’s debut schedule. “Third quarter is the beginning of hunting season,” Hornish said, with hunting really ramping up through Q4. So, Q1 and Q2 are a bit more focused on fishing and less so on hunting.

Based on focus groups and other research, Hornish says Outdoor Channel really understands who its audience is. “We have a very passionate audience that lives, eats and breathes hunting and fishing and the outdoors. In that regard, we know that their crossover passions are history and military,” he said of the audience and what other channels they are likely to watch.

Hornish fits right in with that. Not only did he grow up as an outdoorsman, who now wants a similar experience for his children, but he spent more than 20 years in the US Air Force. So, while his degrees in chemical engineering and law might not relate directly to broadcasting, his personal interests are certainly in line with this particular broadcaster. He was outside counsel before coming aboard Outdoor Channel Holdings (Nasdaq: OUTD) as General counsel and then COO.

As you’d expect, Hornish the outdoorsman is excited about the new program lineup and talked about some of his favorites with RBR/TVBR Executive Editor Jack Messmer in the audio clip on this page. The lineup was unveiled earlier this month.

Tom Hornish Audio:

Outdoor Channel is the only competitor in its niche which is Nielsen rated. Hornish says it is in 30 million cable and satellite households via deals with distributors, including the seven major cable/satellite companies.

Hornish told RBR/TVBR that Outdoor Channel has two types of advertisers. One is the traditional national advertiser, looking for a broad-based audience in the demos that Outdoor Channel delivers. So, it does participate in the Upfront, while most of that business comes later in scatter. “Number two is endemic, the outdoor industry-focused advertisers and marketers. They may not be as wide-based on other channels as our first category, the nationals. So it’s a combination of both,” he explained.

For 2008, Outdoor Channel Holdings reported total revenues from continuing operations of $54.1 million, up 15.3% from $46.9 million in the prior year. Advertising sales rose 25.4% to $36.6 million from $29.1 million in the prior year.

Hornish credits President and CEO Roger Werner – an ESPN veteran and founder of SpeedVision/Outdoor Life (Versus) who joined Outdoor Channel Holdings two and a half years ago – with expanding the scope and rate structure of the company’s advertising sales. So ad revenues are up about 40% over two years ago.

Even in the downturn, ad revenues were still up about 2% in Q1. “At 30 million homes, we’re pretty proud of the fact that we’re making $12 million a year cash flow, EBITDA if you will, and a lot of 30-million-home networks can’t say that,” bragged Hornish.

While Outdoor Channel is, as noted above, a standalone channel, that only means it has a single linear channel. The company is focused on growing new broadband models. Also, Hornish noted, it has much more of its programming produced in HD than many other networks.

Conservation is also a big focus for Outdoor Channel. Hornish says it is not just about harvesting an animal, but that hunters and fishermen are some of the most conservation focused people there are. So, the channel is also focused on educating people who may not be interested in hunting and fishing, but are interested in conservation.