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Marketing

Outdoor Rallies Fan Support

3/17/2006 7:00 PM Eastern

The Outdoor Channel, faced with possibly being dropped or repositioned by Time Warner Cable in several markets, is fighting back with an aggressive ad campaign.

The feisty independent network this past weekend kicked off a print ad campaign in Nebraska, Ohio, San Diego, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York and Texas. It’s a “call to arms” urging The Outdoor Channel’s fans to protest its getting dropped or shifted into a sports tier.

“We need to make sure that the viewers understand the situation,” Outdoor Channel CEO Andy Dale said.

ADS ARE 'PROACTIVE’

Outdoor Channel is spending “north of $200,000” on its print ads because it “needs to be proactive to let people know” that it could be dropped or moved down the dial by Time Warner, Dale said. He also claimed that in at least one instance, a Time Warner representative had told subscribers that The Outdoor Channel “was not broadcasting anymore” in Nebraska, and the channel needs to counter such misinformation.

Time Warner is well aware that The Outdoor Channel hasn’t stopping broadcasting, hopes no customer-service agents have made such a misrepresentation and regrets if any of them have, according to Maureen Huff, Time Warner Cable’s director of corporate communications.

Other independent networks Time Warner had threatened to take off some of its systems will be staying on, officials also said last week.

For example, GSN will remain on Time Warner’s system in Binghamton, N.Y., after getting dropped to a digital tier. And AmericanLife TV Network will remain on Time Warner’s systems in San Diego, Ohio and Binghamton, Huff confirmed.

At deadline last Friday, Time Warner was still saying it planned to drop The Outdoor Channel in Honolulu, San Diego, San Antonio and in other markets, and to switch it to sports tiers in systems in states including Ohio, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina, Dale said. The network was negotiating with Time Warner to try to stop both the deletions and the moves.

“This is a dynamic thing,” Dale said.

Time Warner has said it might delete, or move to less-penetrated tiers, a number of independent channels at systems across the country amid a “periodic review of its channel lineups.”

That list includes The Outdoor Channel, GSN, Animal Planet and G4.

The cable operator said it is weighing an individual channel’s cost, its investment in new programming and its ratings performance in determining whether to make switches to “potentially more popular networks.”

REPRIEVE IN WACO

Even before running ads, The Outdoor Channel rallied enough subscriber support to avoid being dropped in at least one Time Warner system, in Waco, Texas, last week. The network claims that after Time Warner sent a mailing to Waco customers informing them of the planned The Outdoor Channel drop, calls of protest came in and the decision was reversed.

The Outdoor Channel also created a Web site (IWantMyOutdoorChannel.com), to tell viewers about Time Warner’s plans. The site lists all the cities or towns where it claims Time Warner plans to delete it or move it to a sports tier, and posts phone numbers for those systems.

Last week, Time Warner in Binghamton shifted GSN to a digital tier to help make room for SportsNet New York (SNY), the new Time Warner and Comcast Corp.-backed New York City regional sports channel.

Time Warner had threatened to totally delete GSN in Binghamton but instead moved it from channel 50 to a digital slot, channel 124. Time Warner then put C-SPAN on channel 50 and slid SNY — in which Time Warner owns equity — into C-SPAN’s prior berth, channel 24.

“Time Warner Cable did not drop GSN from its programming lineup after a large public outcry,” GSN said in a statement. “We continue to talk with them regarding various issues and are hopeful for a positive outcome from those discussions.”

Time Warner senior vice president of corporate communications Mark Harrad confirmed that GSN was shifted to digital in Binghamton, calling it a local decision.

SportsNet New York launched last Thursday. Time Warner is still threatening to drop GSN in New York City in May.

September