Sunday, April 24, 2011
Discovery Confirms Velocity Network
You may have stumbled across a channel on your cable dial called Discovery HD Theater. The network is an eclectic mix of car shows, motorsports and adventure programs. It is even the TV home of the WRC rally series in the US. When my remote brought me to that location, I often came to a screeching halt.
It certainly looked like Discovery was putting something together for the future. Money was being spent on programming and resources were being used for production. A national HD channel was being cleared for new programs. Something was bound to happen. Now we know exactly what was in the works.
Discovery Communications is a monster. The corporation likes to use the term "The world's largest nonfiction media company." The programming content distributed in all kinds of categories spans the globe and touches 180 countries. The corporate headquarters are in Silver Spring, MD.
Most recently in the headlines was Discovery teaming with Oprah Winfrey to launch OWN. That's right, the Oprah Winfrey Network. The talkshow superstar is expanding her brand into an entire 24-hour cable network aimed at the kind of demographic she has been able to attract for years. Having a loyal audience is the key to this entire equation.
On the heels of OWN, Discovery finally confirmed what had been rumored for a long time. In the fourth quarter of this year, Discovery HD Theater will become a stand-alone HD cable network called Velocity.
At this point, you may be asking why this news item is appearing on a NASCAR TV blog. Before we answer that question, let's hear from Discovery's President David Zaslav.
"Velocity continues Discovery's tradition of maximizing the value of each of its cable platforms," said Zaslav in a media release. "It is going to be a game changer when it officially joins our portfolio of U.S. networks later this year. As the first network devoted to the upscale men's market, Velocity will be a hub for viewers within this key demographic, as well as the wealth of advertisers that target them."
So, what Discovery has been slowly piecing together is a line-up that appeals primarily to men and involves cars, motorsports and adventure programming. I wonder where they got that idea?
Currently, Discovery HD Theater is in about 40 million cable homes in the US. Expect this number to start to creep up now that the announcement has been made of a full-blown cable network with original programming starting in September. Helping that growth is the name behind the project.
Bob Scanlon is a familiar name in cable TV circles. After leaving ESPN with several other top executives, Scanlon began to assemble a new cable network from scratch as the Vice President and Executive Producer. Based in Stamford, CT it had an interesting mix of programming. There were cars, boats, airplanes and motorcycle shows. The name of the network was SpeedVision.
When SpeedVision launched in 1996 it quickly became the fastest growing cable network in history. Never before had the ratings folks seen such a strong male demographic drawn consistently to one cable TV network. It was clear from the start that SpeedVision was going places.
In the summer of 2001 News Corporation came calling and Rupert Murdoch bought one-third of the company. In August of that year, he leveraged a buyout that gave him majority ownership and control. As FOX arrived and changed the name to SPEED Channel, Scanlon departed. Such is the nature of the television business.
Now ten years later, Scanlon is back and Velocity is ready to go. "In the same way that a car once defined the person who drove it, Velocity will define the viewer who watches it," said Scanlon. "Whether you are a car aficionado or just someone who prefers fast-paced, high-stakes television, Velocity will become a must-have entertainment destination."
Scanlon also talked a little bit about the programming. "Velocity will televise an upscale sailing race that touches five oceans," said Scanlon. "It will also offer travel programming to upscale locations, adventure sports and real-life adrenaline shows."
To many NASCAR fans, Scanlon is known for something else. A very long time ago and with very little money in the budget, Scanlon commissioned a NASCAR talk show from a dingy little studio in an industrial park in Charlotte, NC.
Inside Winston Cup Racing on Monday nights featured an unlikely cast of characters. Johnny Benson looked like a Midwestern accountant. Kenny Schrader was a wily racing veteran who had a wicked sense of humor and a touch of mischief in his soul. Michael Waltrip was completely off his rocker.
By putting that trio in a controlled environment and challenging host Allen Bestwick to maintain order, the TV series became a cult hit. There had never been anything like it on the air before. It served to introduce NASCAR fans to the other forms of racing on SpeedVision. It worked like a charm.
Monday, Scanlon confirmed to The Daly Planet that he is currently working on a new original television project for Velocity with the NASCAR Media Group. After all the frustrating years of SPEED turning down NMG projects, it seems ironic that things may have come full circle.
NASCAR desperately needs new and original TV programming out in the marketplace other than just the races or news shows. Velocity will be a network driven by high-end HD programming. This is exactly what NMG loves to produce. Many of us can recall several series cancelled by SPEED that later won awards for production.
There is little doubt that Scanlon intends to make Velocity the newest NASCAR TV partner. Scanlon also made it clear that he is open to ideas and discussions about other motorsports and adventure programming. That is even better news for independent TV production companies like the ones owned by Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt. Jr.
There is nothing like having the top executive of a new cable network launched under the Discovery umbrella saying he is open to new programming ideas. Come September, we may find ourselves with a new TV player in town chasing many of the same eyeballs as the current NASCAR TV partners.
The big difference this time around is that the guy actually driving the bus has made this trip before. He knows all the bumps, sharp turns and obstacles along the roadway. Scanlon and Velocity may be just the TV shot in the arm that NASCAR needs this year. We will keep you posted as the news continues to develop on this new network.
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Disclosure: I worked for Scanlon at ESPN for several years in the 1980's. Later, as a TV consultant, I was hired to assist SpeedVision in ramping-up for the launch of the network. Subsequently, I provided programming to SpeedVision as a producer. I currently have no association with Scanlon or the Velocity network.