For the Golf Channel, the only thing better than having the rights to cover PGA Tour events is being able to air them twice.
This season, Golf Channel has been airing early-round coverage live during the day on Thursday and Fridays and then re-airing the programming in prime time. The strategy has been attracting viewers, and by selling commercials to run in both the live coverage and the prime-time rerun, the network is climbing the leaderboard in ad revenue.
Golf Channel, owned by Comcast, ranked 50th among ad-supported cable networks in total prime-time viewers in the first quarter. But it ranks 38th in ad revenue. According to Kagan Research, Golf Channel generated $113 million in ad revenue in 2006 and will jump to $121.8 million this year. It takes in more ad dollars than higher-rated networks including Animal Planet, Travel Channel, Lifetime and SoapNet, according to Kagan.
“This is a network that prides itself on being able to reach a very difficult-to-reach upscale male viewer,” said Tom Knapp, VP of strategic partnerships at Golf Channel. “Early-round golf takes place during the day when a proportion of those business decision-makers are busy at work. So we thought, let’s put it on when they have the ability and the opportunity to watch it in the evening.”
And it’s working: Most of the time, the taped prime-time coverage draws a bigger audience than the daytime live airing. It also draws bigger audiences than most of the network’s other prime-time shows.
The other positive factor is that 93 percent of those prime-time viewers are different from the people who watched during the day. Because of that high level of unduplicated audience, Golf Channel is able to sell advertisers spots based on the combined viewership, and one bigger audience is usually worth more than two smaller ones.
“We redefined what a unit means,” Mr. Knapp said. “If you purchase a unit on the Golf Channel in the PGA Tour, you receive a spot in the daytime and a spot in the evening.”
Other cable channels sell advertising on some shows based on accumulated viewing. FX sells spots in its original shows that air each time they appear during the week. Turner sells spots in its weekend movies that way as well.
Mr. Knapp said demand for the units has been strong. “We are in a sold-out position in many events as we speak, and it happened in many cases earlier than we expected,” he said. Key advertisers during tour events include Buick, Nissan and IBM.
The prime-time replays work because golf tournaments are unique in that they take place over four days and there’s no final result until the event is over.
“It’s not like watching the Yankees game when you know the Devil Rays won 6-4 and I’m going to watch the Yankees lose again,” Mr. Knapp sad. “If Tiger Woods has a great round, our viewers want to know how he did that. Conversely, if he has a poor round, they want to see what happened and they’ll watch that.”
Mr. Knapp said the strategy also makes commercials on the network less susceptible to zapping by digital video recorder users. “You don’t need the TiVo because you have a second chance to watch it [in prime time], and therefore it gives the advertiser’s messages a much larger opportunity to be seen,” he explained.
“You’re not watching a TiVo’d live event in prime time and skipping through the commercials. You’re watching the re-air of it, and therefore you’re also engaged with the commercials.”
The PGA Tour coverage also has boosted the ratings of other events on the channel including the Champions tour, he said.