The Ski Channel’s packed-house premiere of its own in-house movie, "The Story," at Mann’s Chinese Theatre, in downtown L.A. in October, drew ski stars and Hollywood celebrities alike, from Donna Mills and Ernie Hudson to Mike Douglas and Lynsey Dyer. Buoyed by the overwhelming response to the film, Ski Channel CEO and founder Steve Bellamy is looking to increase its distribution, and even talking about a possible Oscar.
In the meantime, he’s still building the programming and back catalog for his cable TV channel, overseeing the editorial for his popular website, www.theskichannel.com, and working with SnowSports Industries America to produce a wintersports fashion segment at the SIA Snow Show. With all that in the forecast, the always affable Bellamy took the time to answer questions from SNEWS about who is actually watching the Ski Channel, is anyone still making good ski movies, and how and when does he start making money.
SNEWS: The fact that you packed the Chinese Theatre for a ski film is huge. Where does the film go from here, and what’s this talk about an Oscar?
Steve Bellamy: For now, "The Story" is running in theaters in Los Angeles for a week and in New York for a week, so it can be in the running for the Academy Awards. At that L.A. screening, every monster showbiz cat in town was in that room and we have been deluged with meetings since. There is a high likelihood there will be some sort of a theatrical run, and we are for certain going to get a cable run outside of our own air. In terms of the tour going forward, it will play in the majority of ski resorts on the independent tour thing, and probably end up with between 100 and 300 stops when everything is said and done. But the storyline with "The Story" film is that a person -- me -- wrote and directed a film for the first time and it is getting over the top reviews.
SNEWS: I know you aren’t ready to talk about all that you’re hoping to do at the SIA Show this year, so what in particular can you tell SNEWS readers regarding the Fashion Show?
Bellamy: We will be producing a television show on the fashion show, combined with the styles on the floor to create a big TV production on fashion in the ski industry. I look at SIA in general as one of the neatest things in the ski industry. It’s the only place to get everyone in the same room at the same time where you get to look at all of the product and ideas that the industry has come up with in the past year. Our goal is to create a 30-minute to one-hour package on everything that is going on at the show, including a lot of runway scenes, a lot of discussion about the products along with backstage scenes and scenes from the show floor where we are looking at garments, talking about garments -- especially with the person who designed each jacket, talking about how many stitches and what fibers went into its production. For sure, it will be very R&D heavy.
SNEWS: What are trying to do with The Ski Channel right now?
Bellamy: Right now, it is in approximately 43 million homes in the U.S. So the distribution is fairly complete. The goal now is getting people to understand that there is a channel, and to have them search and find it. If a new channel is going to be on something like channel 857, which is not exactly beachfront real estate, or on VOD, you have to create the knowledge that there is an actual network there and that people can go watch it. But when they are watching, it is great. Whether it’s footage of a skier standing on Everest, or on any mountain, in super tech gear talking about the specific characteristics of a ski, the whole channel is just a skier’s dream. And just for the general populace, having it on in the background is better than everything else on TV. With all of those fantastic mountain settings, just seeing it is beautiful
SNEWS: So how do you let people know it is there?
Bellamy: From a business strategy, we have created all kinds of other things that are cottage businesses themselves that drive awareness to the channel. We have the network, we have a website that is arguably one of the best if not the best websites in the industry. Now we have a film tour, which for us is the first time around, but which sold out the Mann Chinese Theatre. It was the first premiere that actually had to turn away a couple thousand people. We did 1,500 and probably could have done 3,500. We have big plans for social media; an iPhone app has been out for a year now with nearly 1 million downloads. It’s not happening yet that we have the audience, but you would be surprised how long it takes that to happen. It took about five years for people to really understand the Tennis Channel (Bellamy’s previous sports channel launch). I’m just lucky that there is not a gun to my head to make it happen. Steady wins the race here.
SNEWS: Speaking of which, where is the money coming from? There is that joke, "How do you make a million dollars in the ski industry? Start with two." Is that the case here with you?
Bellamy: First of all, it is a start-up that I funded myself. I assume you spent enough time researching me to know that I have done well in life, and I funded The Ski Channel up until its launch, then I brought in a gaggle of very well-heeled investors who all put in some money. To that end, everything has been run very prudently. I just don’t waste money in any direction. I look at capital like oxygen. But, if at any point in time we felt there was something we needed to buy or we needed more capital, there is this group of investors who are very bullish about what we do.
SNEWS: Where do you start to amortize the investment and begin making a profit on this venture?
Bellamy: I hate giving away too much of the special sauce, but we have already done a bunch of deals that already make this a good business. And, if we were to look at this just as an exit strategy sale, the fact that Mountain News Corp. sold for $16 million with just under $4 million in annual revenue makes me feel very confident about what we have already done so far. But the argument that we really want to make is that this industry is in dire need of a great media vehicle. It is a lot like tennis in that 90 percent of the tennis tournaments were not on the air when we launched The Tennis Channel. The Grand Slams were all covered, but after that, the market was open for all the other things we could air. In the ski industry, there are things happening at resorts across the country that nobody outside that mountain knows about, and we see ourselves as a great broadcast conduit to bring that stuff from the area to the viewer.
SNEWS: Why skiing?
Bellamy: I think it is one of the last great media opportunities. You already have The Golf Channel and The Tennis Channel, so with skiing, you have all three of the lifetime sports covered. You have so much golf on television, but you just can’t find skiing on TV, unless it’s the Olympics or the X Games. It is just not enough. When you think about it, there is no such thing as a tennis movie, or a golf movie, but there are all of these ski movies. There is all of this content just sitting there on the shelves that is not being broadcast to people. Skiing was just waiting for a network to emerge.
SNEWS: So does this give new life to the ski movie?
Bellamy: I’m in a unique position where I literally get to see all of the movies. And what I like is that you are starting to see little dribs and drabs of people starting to focus on story instead of just making an extended music video. There has to be story to make people care, and someone like Nick Waggoner of Sweetgrass Productions is a great example of someone who has truly embedded a story into their film. "The Edge of Never" and "Swift, Silent, Deep" are other recent films that I loved, and in Jeremy Jones’ new film, "Deeper," you can really start to see the beginning of a storyline building through.
SNEWS: So what have you learned about the ski industry in the past few years?
Bellamy: In terms of what I've learned, this industry is in dire need of unity and maybe a commissioner. There is too much independence and then the sport suffers from the fragmentation. Baseball, basketball and football aren't participation sports -- you can't get your helmet tuned at a football shop, you can't take your family to a basketball resort during spring break, and you can't buy property near a baseball hill. Yet those guys have monetized their sports far better because the marketing and promotion is unified. Our short-term goal is to celebritize and famoutize these athletes and these mountains through the living room flat screens and bedroom television sets of the 43 million homes the television network is in, as well as on our website, which has now reached millions as well and the various other endeavors we are putting out.
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