SBJ/June 9 - 15, 2003/This Weeks Issue

Not as planned, but still a peak performance

Ratings for OLN’s “Global Extremes” climbed when the participants scaled Mount Everest.

Outdoor Life Network's "Global Extremes" was supposed to climax with live coverage of five amateur endurance athletes stepping onto the peak of Mount Everest. The network had to settle for some "live to tape" footage of two of the contestants standing there, without actually capturing the moment of those last climactic steps.

In the end, though, OLN still completed one of the most ambitious projects in the history of television, setting up a live transmission studio at Everest base camp and scaling the 29,000-foot peak on the 50th anniversary of the historic ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

The final four-hour segment of the show did a 0.25 cable rating, paltry by the standards of sports event television but still a 79 percent increase over what OLN normally averages in the time slot.

The OLN summit attempt had been put off by eight days because of weather and because the OLN crew, which consisted of expert mountaineers, had to assist in a rescue of some climbers from other expeditions who were stranded on the mountain. Little of that life-and-death drama was caught on television, and by the time the weather had cleared and the OLN team was ready to try again, its satellite time in Tibet had expired. The crew had to drive a tape of the final climb to Kathmandu in Nepal to get it on the air two days later.

Of the five people who were selected to scale Everest as part of the OLN team, three dropped out days before, and the two who made the climb did so faster than the camera men, meaning the OLN show never did get the shot that had been planned for months of the moment the featured participants completed their mission.

The "Global Extremes" show consisted of 20 one-hour episodes chronicling the exploits of 50 contestants competing to be among the five to scale Everest. They engaged in a series of challenges and fitness tests in Moab, Utah, then in the Rockies, Costa Rica, South Africa and Iceland.

Those shows averaged a 0.14 rating, about even with OLN's prime-time average.

Seasonlong ratings "weren't as high as we anticipated," said Celeste Migliore, national truck SUV and van ad manager for lead sponsor Toyota. But she said that overall the sponsorship worked for Toyota on many levels.

The company made the show and the Mount Everest theme a pillar of the launch of its 4Runner sport utility vehicle, whose name was incorporated into the show's subtitle "4Runners of Adventure." During the weekly episodes, the 4Runners were featured prominently whenever they were used for support or to ferry the participants activities that preceded their Everest climb.

Outdoor Life Network CEO Roger Williams said "Global Extremes" cost about $5 million to produce, and that about 80 percent of the expenses were covered by Toyota and other sponsors.

"At the end of the day, [the show] met all the financial benchmarks we set for it," he said. "While we always want to have bigger viewership, I'm happy with what we got."

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