SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Media

Fuel TV adding motorsports, MMA to action sports mix

Rally carGetty Images
Among the new sports programming Fuel TV plans to feature are shows on rally car racing.
Fox Sports’ action sports channel won’t be limited to surf, skate and snow programming anymore.

Fuel TV plans to add lifestyle programming and sports programming from motorsports and mixed martial arts to its lineup over the next month and a half. The moves are designed to expand the channel’s target demo from 12- to 24-year-old males to 12-35 and enlarge its audience.

The changes also come at an important time for the network, which is in about 31 million homes. One of its biggest affiliate deals, with DirecTV, ends next fall, sources said. Currently, distributors pay 14 cents per subscriber per month for Fuel, according to numbers from SNL Kagan. Most observers believe DirecTV will renew Fuel TV.

“We’re not abandoning action sports,” said Fuel TV general manager C.J. Olivares. “We’re just expanding beyond just action sports. We look at the channel as a sports and entertainment network that’s inspired by a new generation of sports.”

Wasserman Media Group principal Steve Astephen, whose agency represents some of action sports’ biggest stars, said that changing the mix of programming was the only way Fuel TV could expand, adding that he didn’t think the addition of sports like mixed martial arts would estrange existing viewers.

“They’ve got to have more variety of programming,” Astephen said. “They’ve got low-end production on there [now], and there’s no value there. This is what they need to do to grow. They’re capped unless they do it.”

As part of the change, the channel will roll out a new tag line: “Risk is the only rule.” The tag line will be part of a marketing campaign the channel will launch that Olivares says will be different from previous marketing campaigns the channel has conducted.

“Historically, we’re focused on brand,” he said. “That will continue to be a component, but we are de-emphasizing it as a talking point and focusing on tune-in.”

Last year, MTV was close to buying the channel. Talks fell apart at the 11th hour.

Fox Sports Chairman David Hill said the channel no longer is on the selling block.

“C.J. and I have been working very closely for the last few months on the new philosophy and approach to programming,” Hill said. “We have to broaden the network’s appeal without alienating the core viewer in order to open the network up to a wider audience.”

Fox executives also are making these moves in hopes of Fuel TV becoming a rated network.

“To survive and thrive in the competitive landscape of cable television, we need to move to a rated environment,” Olivares said.
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