Bear maulings and lightning strikes: 'Outdoor Life' brings mag column to cable

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In autumn, daylight dims earlier, and TV-watchers prepare to snuggle up to a familiar story: boy meets bear.

At least they will if they tune in to Comcast's Outdoor Life Network, which on Oct. 5 airs the debut episode of "This Happened to Me." The show is named for and is built around storylines taken from the first-person column of the same name in Time4Media's Outdoor Life. It is also the first series in which the magazine collaborates on-air with its namesake network.

The long-running column "This Happened to Me" recounts hair-raising incidents of outdoorsmen in severe situations. The debut episode features an Alaskan hunting guide who survived being mauled beyond recognition in an encounter with a brown bear. (A call to Gary LaRose, the subject of the original piece who continues to organize bear hunts, reached a prerecorded message that said Mr. LaRose was at moose camp until the end of October.)

natural player

"This Happened to Me" is a natural player on a cable dial that seeks to draw viewers by leaning heavily on re-enactments of true stories-and which may catch their attention better if they contain home-video footage, as in the episode about Mr. LaRose.

"I thought [the series] sounded pretty cool," said Roger Williams, president-CEO of Outdoor Life Network. "That sort of first-person recounting of dangerous encounters in the outdoors, if done properly, can make for some very compelling television."

Other episodes tell the tales of a fisherman who survived being struck by lightning, and another who was dragged from a boat to a near-death experience by a giant tuna he'd hooked. The series is slated to run 13 episodes through the end of the year.

What's compelling to Time4 Media is how the deal allows it to wring incremental revenue from two of its key brands. The magazine's licensing deal with OLN gives it on-air commercial time to offer four show sponsorships. The price of each is a minimum of four ad pages in both Outdoor Life and Field & Stream. The sponsors of the show include Pemmican beef jerky, gunmakers Smith & Wesson and Beretta, and gun-safety program Project Childsafe. A one time full-color page in Outdoor Life is $51,900; that page in Field & Stream is $97,200.

"It allows us to have a much more integrated approach-not just magazines but TV as well," said a Beretta USA spokeswoman. She said the company had done a similar sponsorship earlier this year with Outdoor Channel's "American Rifleman" show, itself an extension of the National Rifle Association magazine.

other titles

"Basically, when you're in vertical markets, you have to build a multimedia platform," said Mark Ford, president, Time4 Media. He cited how the magazine This Old House was leveraged off the long-running PBS show, and that Time4 Media is putting together a PBS show for its Popular Science title to air next year.

"You look for four presenting sponsors," said Mr. Ford.

Mr. Williams said early talks exploring the possibilities of Field & Stream-branded shows were under way as well. The channel is no stranger to shows leveraged off magazines, he said, with previous efforts taking place with Wenner Media's Men's Journal and Mariah Media's Outside. Outdoor Life Network, which was formed in partnership with Outdoor Life's then-parent Times Mirror Magazines in 1995, is now owned entirely by Comcast and reaches 54 million cable subscribers.

The incremental ad boost to Field & Stream and Outdoor Life helps, as both have seen a significant shrinking in their stature in the media landscape for reasons both commercial and cultural.

The category has had its own nightmarish tale to tell that involves a double whammy of big tobacco ad pullbacks and sweepstakes marketers' demise. In 2000, Philip Morris USA yanked cigarette ads from most print as it faced pressure to cut off its ad messages aimed at underage consumers. In 1999, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR and Publishers Information Bureau data, Philip Morris cigarette ads accounted for 9.5% of Outdoor Life's ad revenues and 7.6% of Field & Stream's.

Both titles were commonly cited by knowledgeable executives as heavy users of sweepstakes-generated subscriptions. In early 2002, as part of redesigns and revamping of the titles, Time4 Media slashed Outdoor Life's rate base 50%, to 900,000 from 1.35 million, and cut Field & Stream's to 1.5 million from 1.75 million. Outdoor Life's frequency was reduced from 10 times a year to nine.

At the time, the extent of changes at Outdoor Life suggested a title in serious straits, but the indicators have stabilized since then. Tom Ott, group publisher of Field & Stream and Outdoor Life said a rate base hike at Outdoor Life, to 925,000, would come in 2004. Through August, Outdoor Life's pages are up 39.5% to 294.7, and Field & Stream's are up 13.4% to 379.6, according to PIB.

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