Fuel TV Retools To Lure Ratings, Dollars

News Corp.’s action sports network seeks young male viewers, Nielsen numbers and ad revenue

Fuel TV IS upping the octane of its programming
in hopes that Nielsen will take notice.

The 30 million-subscriber network catering
to young men interested in action sports was nearly
sold by News Corp. a year ago. Now, as part of David
Hill’s Fox Sports Media Group, Fuel is looking to grow.
It canceled 10 programs, using the money to develop
and acquire better shows, some from its Fox siblings.
New programs, like a weekly fight night and live championship
motocross racing, will be rolling out through
the summer, backed by a big promotional push. The
network also just signed a deal licensing 40 hours of
programming this year from Red Bull Media
House North America. The Red Bull programming
includes competitions and specials.

Fuel has signed up for Nielsen ratings
starting in April and is betting that the numbers
will be attractive to advertisers, says CJ
Olivares, Fuel TV general manager.

Without ratings and with spotty distribution,
selling ads has been difficult for Fuel,
according to Derek Baine, analyst at SNL Kagan,
who pegs Fuel’s 2010 ad sales at $21.5
million, compared with healthy distribution
revenue of $52.1 million. Baine estimates
that Fuel increased programming spending
by 25% in 2010.

“Any time you have a network with 30 million
subs doing this little in ad revenue, you
really do want to pay attention to it because
the potential is very large over the long run,” Baine says. “So if they don’t invest
heavily in programming and get Nielsen-rated, they are in danger of losing the subs
they already have.”

As part of its tune-up, Fuel has expanded its target audience. “We positioned ourselves
as a 12-to-24 male audience,” says Olivares. “What some of the demonstration
data and some independent research supported was that we were already attracting
a pretty strong 18-to-34, so we’ve since expanded our target up to 34.”

Last year, the network adopted a new slogan and mindset: Risk Is the Only Rule.
And “risk” is the way Fuel differentiates itself from the other sports and entertainment
networks aimed at young men.

“There’s this element of risk in the
activities that we are showcasing,”
says Olivares. “In our world, if you
miss pulling a back flip on a motorcycle,
or you miss making the drop on a
50-foot wave at Mavericks in Northern
California, the stakes are real
and the consequences can be grave.
We apply that risk mantra to all the
things we do as we expand out.”

Oliveras sees MTV, Comedy Central,
Adult Swim, G4 and Spike as
the network’s main competition for
young male viewers.

Neal Tiles, president of G4, says
young men “are actually the easiest
demographic to find because they
consume so much media. It’s just that
they’re the hardest to engage.” G4 has
also broadened its target audience, but
usually what interests 12-to-24 males is
very different from what 35-to-49 guys
want. “But if you can find the sweet
spot of what is interesting to all of
them, I think you get paid handsomely
by Madison Avenue,” Tiles says.

That sweet spot includes the hightech
geek-culture world that Fuel
appears to be ignoring, Tiles says,
adding that a SpikeTV/Jackass approach
to men will miss the mark:
“We believe that guys are much more
dimensional than that.”

Fuel has been adding new shows to
its lineup since late last year. It shares
two late-night shows, Cubed and
College Experiment, with FoxSports.com’s “Lunch With Benefi ts” bloc.

In what the network calls “Dude Prime,” Fuel has revamped its 8 p.m. anchor
show The Daily Habit, increasing its emphasis on comedy and male-culture relevance.
Other new primetime shows include The Moto, an inside look at racers
preparing for grueling motocross racing that launched last week; and Ellismania,
featuring Jason Ellis, a popular host on SiriusXM’s action sports and music channel,
who stages unusual forms of fighting on a show launching in April. This
month, Fuel will air Stealth Rider, a show about stuntmen it acquired from Speed,
another Fox Sports network.

The network hopes to launch a Friday fight night, featuring a combination of
mixed martial arts and younger-skewing boxing.

On weekends over the summer, Fuel will try its hand at live events, with 12 weeks
of the AMA Lucas Oil Motocross Championship Series. Fuel will air each event’s
early races, then toss to either Speed or NBC, which air the later races.

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette