Fifth Estater

King of Start-Ups Set to Get Network on Track

Scanlon, who already lives the Velocity life, is perfect GM to reach his audience 10/24/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Bob Scanlon

Title:

General manager, Velocity

Education:

Ithaca College, B.S., 1974

Employment Highlights:

HBO, manager of network operations, 1974-77

ABC News & Sports, director of telecommunications, 1977-79

ESPN, executive producer, 1979-95

Speedvision, senior VP of programming/ production and executive producer; cofounder, Speedvision and Outdoor Life Network, 1995-2002

NFL Network, consultant, 2002-03

Scan Communications, principal/founder, 2003-08

Discovery Communications, VP production and programming, emerging networks, 2008-11

Current position since April 2011

Personal:

b. March 16, 1952; married; two sons, ages 26 and 23

Bob Scanlon is something of a start-up addict. The general
manager of the newly rebranded Velocity network has a host
of launches on his résumé, having served on the founding
management teams for Speedvision and Outdoor Life Network
as well as working at HBO, ESPN and NFL Network in the
early days of those channels.

“I love this stuff,” Scanlon says. “There are
land mines and pitfalls to launching that only
a very small group of people in this industry
really know about and have experienced.”

Velocity, owned by Discovery Communications
and currently with a staff of only seven
people, relaunched Oct. 4 on the channel that
used to be HD Theater. Targeting an audience
of college-educated men 25-54 with incomes
of $150,000-plus, Velocity is drawing on HD
Theater’s library of automotive programming
and adding new series about fishing, gadgets
and NFL football, to name a few.

The initial programming slate for Velocity
bears a striking resemblance to Scanlon’s résumé:
prominent series include NFL Single Coverage
and Motorweek. The similarity is not lost on
him, though he says he is not programming
the channel for himself.

“I have a real connection and affinity for the
psychographic of the target audience,” Scanlon
says. “I don’t claim any special expertise. It’s
just, you know, sometimes you get lucky.”

Scanlon’s first job after graduating from Ithaca
College (where he was classmates with Walt
Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger—still a good friend)
was at HBO in the mid-1970s, when the fledging
pay TV network was primarily distributed
on Manhattan cable. While Scanlon was there,
HBO cut the first deal with RCA to make the
channel available by satellite. His mark as one
of the few people in the country with any satellite
experience got him hired at ABC News
and Sports, where he worked under the legendary
Roone Arledge, which he calls “a great
education.”

In 1979, Scanlon was one of the first 70 people
hired at the just-launched ESPN, where he worked
in various roles for 15 years, eventually becoming
coordinating producer for motorsports—
for which he won eight Emmy Awards including
best live sports series, beating out all NFL
and NBA coverage that year.

It was at ESPN that he met Roger Werner
and Roger Williams, with whom he would go
on to start up Speedvision and OLN in 1995.
From scratch, the three built the channels
into lucrative networks; in 2001, News Corp.
bought Speedvision (now SPEED Channel)
and OLN (now Versus) was sold to Comcast.

“Bob has a deep background in operations,
bigger than just the technology side, but significant production and programming experience
as well. A track record of success in that
area was the primary thing I was looking for,”
Werner, now CEO of Outdoor Channel Holdings,
says of their partnership. “Bob also is
just a great guy, good intelligence, one of the
hardest-working guys you’ll meet.”

Scanlon’s experience programming to the upscale
male audience will serve him well at Velocity,
where everything will be put through a
filter for men who are successful, ambitious and
strapped for time. There will be no contrivedconflict
reality series or recaps of what you
missed at the beginning of episodes, he says,
and the network will air some 15-minute shows.
Even the NFL programming is what Scanlon
calls a “thinking man’s football show,” focusing
on game analysis and strategic rivalries.

“This adage that we’re talking to the smartest
guys in the room is, I think, a big differentiator
for us,” Scanlon says.

While Velocity is selling an upscale male audience,
Scanlon sees audience growth in aspirational
viewers who may not have achieved
that level of success yet but will respond to the
intelligent programming. But the channel is not
looking to disinvite anyone; it may even attract
women with series such as Extreme Fishing,
hosted by easy-on-the-eyes Robson Greene, or
a possible series following Grey’s Anatomy star
Patrick Dempsey as he prepares to drive the 24
Hours of Le Mans race in 2012.

“No ones knows just how difficult it is to
rebrand, relaunch or launch a network,” says
Peter Liguori, COO of Discovery Communications.
“You have to have someone who has
clarity of purpose and a holistic vision to do
it, and frankly, just knows how much every
minute of every day matters, to have that vision
articulated. These things are moment-bymoment
wars. You are constantly up against
the clock, and it’s a large endeavor. Bob is one
of these guys who has a complete can-do, willdo
attitude, and he refuses to accept defeat.”

At least Scanlon doesn’t have the problem of
achieving distribution this time around, which
was the biggest challenge he faced in launching
Speedvision and OLN. Velocity inherited HD
Theater’s footprint of 40 million households,
though Discovery is of course hoping to grow
that number with the rebranding. Early ratings
look promising—the launch on Oct. 4 was the
best Tuesday ever for the network platform in
primetime among its target men 25-54 and
other key demos.

It also does not hurt the network’s chances
for success that its GM not only has a wealth of
professional experience in its target programming
but lives it in his personal life as well.
Scanlon has been an instructor for the Richard
Petty Driving School and even got tips from
NASCAR’s King Richard himself once, though
he does not get to race as much as he would
like. As for hobbies, he enjoys music (he plays
the drums) and owns a speedboat at his home
in Annapolis, Md., where he lives with his wife.

Though his modest demeanor means he
would never invite the comparison, Scanlon is
truly a Velocity man.

E-mail comments to
amorabito@nbmedia.com and follow her on
Twitter: @andreamorabito

Bob Scanlon

Title:

General manager, Velocity

Education:

Ithaca College, B.S., 1974

Employment Highlights:

HBO, manager of network operations, 1974-77

ABC News & Sports, director of telecommunications, 1977-79

ESPN, executive producer, 1979-95

Speedvision, senior VP of programming/ production and executive producer; cofounder, Speedvision and Outdoor Life Network, 1995-2002

NFL Network, consultant, 2002-03

Scan Communications, principal/founder, 2003-08

Discovery Communications, VP production and programming, emerging networks, 2008-11

Current position since April 2011

Personal:

b. March 16, 1952; married; two sons, ages 26 and 23

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