The outdoors just took a step inside.
In early June, Comcast Xfinity cable network began rolling out Outside Television, broadening the channel’s reach to a national audience.
Previously limited to broadcast in resort towns, the deal brings Outside Television the cable provider’s Sports Entertainment package in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Florida, Houston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco and Seattle, said Senior Vice President of Programming and Production Rob Faris.
It’s another chapter in the evolution of the channel, which began as Resort Sports Network (RSN) in 1985, and in 2007 was bought by executives at Outside Magazine. In 2010, the channel rebranded to Outside Televison, and brought on Faris to help revamp programming and get the channel where it needed to be for a wider launch. Comcast is the first major cable TV provider to sign a deal, and Faris told us that others have expressed interest.
Faris talked to SNEWS about the channel’s expanded reach, its relationship with Outside Magazine and the programming lineup.
SNEWS: What’s the strategy to going nationwide with Outside Television?
Rob Faris: It’s one of the first independent networks Comcast has launched in nearly a decade, so we’re feeling great about their support as a core partner. It’s a real validation of not only what we’re attempting to do with Outside TV and the quality of the brand that the magazine’s developed the past 35 years, but perhaps most importantly, the exciting growth potential of this entire lifestyle and marketplace. Most independent networks get small launches here and there, but Comcast is going full out with the national roll out. They want to capture the even broader group of people who aspire toward the active outside lifestyle by [eventually] going into all their other systems across the nation, too.
SNEWS: What opportunities does Outside Magazine see in further expanding in TV?
RF: If you think about the big events like the Olympics, a company like Comcast/NBC has all these different platforms available to provide however broad or deep content anyone could want. What’s great is that we’re assembling something very similar for the entire outside space. Now we can cover stories across all platforms, sell advertising across all platforms, but the biggest opportunity is to create original programs and documentaries that fit with our active lifestyle universe and, once some people see it, they’re off the couch for good. Selfishly, we have 24 hours every day, seven days per week as a new canvas, and that’s a lot bigger space than a monthly publication.
SNEWS: What kind of programming can viewers expect? Any major celebrities? Have you reached out to Bear Grylls, who left Discovery Channel earlier this year?
RF: We haven’t heard from Bear just yet, but you never know. But that’s not to say we wouldn’t be interested. Bear’s got a unique brand unto himself, and he’s a compelling character, and we want compelling characters. In less than two years, we’ve overhauled Outside Television’s current programming and future aggressive development to focus on episodic, multi-arc, story-based adventure based on truly compelling characters. That can be original series. It can be major films and documentaries. But those are the characteristics I look for. I want compelling, immersive, challenging stories of man against man, man against the elements, man against himself. And when I say, “man,” I certainly mean women too, because we all know that active outside ladies can typically kick our butts.
“Jeremy Jones Deeper” is a series based on Jones and his attempt to camp, climb and snowboard some of the world’s most remote peaks without any motorized assistance. He is someone who I believe embodies our network. We’ve also done a pretty good job so far in bringing more diversity to the schedule, and then linking it all together with the studio show “Outside Today” and the newsmagazine “The Buzz” that enable us to build feature content off of things that might appear first in the magazine or online.
SNEWS: The channel is aimed at people play outside. Isn’t the concept of a TV network sort of contrary to that?
RF: As much as we’d all love to be outside hang gliding or surfing or hiking or mountain biking or whatever else, we do tend to have to spend a lot of our days in between indoors. And if that’s the case, then the ultimate window to look out happens to be about 50 to 60 inches across and hangs on a wall in your living room and is so crisp, clear and immersed in surround sound that you’d feel as if — just maybe — you were outside again even on a Wednesday night before you give a big presentation in the morning. Because of the way our audiences live their lives, we have to be entirely immersive, and today’s home theaters were made for what we’re doing. It’s an opportunity to reward the people already living the lifestyle, while gaining a whole new audience who wants to become more active because they’re inspired by what they see on the network.
SNEWS: Will there be mobile options available to watch the channel?
RF: This is very definitely a mobile audience, and so we’re already in discussions about a few streaming opportunities in the mobile space. Obviously, there are certain limitations in what you stream and what you put on the network, but we should have something to talk about there within a few months.
SNEWS: Are there any major plans to cover live events in the outdoor industry such as Outdoor Retailer or the Teva Mountain Games?
RF: We’re more about the lifestyle than any sort of competitions, but these are central, anchor events in the lives of our audience, and so yeah, we plan to be there. We are already partners with the Mountainfilm of Telluride Festival. We have the new partnership with the Volvo Ocean Race that spans both television and digital content. I’ve already begun some discussions with the Teva Mountain Games, but I think you will always see us come at it more from the lifestyle aspect. You may be apt to see some of our crews covering stories or producing shows from these events, but it won’t likely be “event” coverage per se.
SNEWS: Who’s on board so far with advertising support?
RF: We’ve already been in business with real blue-chippers like Ford, Jeep, Subaru; others like Fidelity and Geico and E*Trade provide some real quality support. Within our endemic community, we’re doing interesting things with The North Face, GoPro, Polartec and many others who have been with us pretty much since day one. And I’d also say that one of our early successes is an ability to partner with larger endemic retail companies that operate in this space, so we can create mutually beneficial programming content. We all have an opportunity to make this active outside space sing, and we cannot do that without the core support of all the outdoor companies, so we really thank them.