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A Channel Woos the Man With Spare Cash for Toys

Brian Stelter|The New York Times
Monday, 19 Sep 2011 | 11:33 AM ET

When Discovery Communications set out to reformat HD Theater, the nine-year-old home of high-definition documentaries, its executives assessed the crowded cable programming landscape and asked what was missing — where there was “white space,” as one later put it.

Velocity
Source: discovery.com
Velocity

What was missing, they decided, was a channel for the Rich Man — the successful, college-educated man who earns $150,000 or more a year and who wants to know how to spend his time and money.

That’s how Velocity was hatched. Replacing the low-rated HD Theater on Oct. 4, Velocity is being billed as a high-end men’s lifestyle channel about fast cars, fancy auctions and football stars. On Monday, the channel will announce that its first three months will feature 140 hours of programming premieres, a high number that reflects the channel’s need to be sampled by its chosen demographic.

“The biggest challenge,” said Robert S. Scanlon, the executive in charge of Velocity, “is to get the word out — to explain what we are in 30 seconds or less.” To get attention, the channel has collaborated with NFL Films to create two football-themed series and has conceived several nights’ worth of car programming.

In interviews a few weeks before the channel transition, Discovery executives said they weren’t worried about the state of the broader economy, noting that the luxury sector has held up quite well in recent years. As Mr. Scanlon said: “If you’re selling something in a recession, who’s more likely to buy, a guy with money or a guy without?”

Velocity is the latest example of the splintering of television into ever-narrower demographic and psychographic segments. Of the 118 million men ages 15 and older in the United States, about four million are identified by the government as having incomes above $150,000 each year, according to data collected last year by the Census Bureau.

It is unknown how many of those four million men will have access to Velocity; HD Theater is available in about 40 million of the 100 million homes that have cable.

“It’s not going to have a huge audience,” said David Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery Communications . But, he asserted, it doesn’t necessarily need to; if Velocity can attract the relatively elusive Rich Man, it can charge a premium to advertisers in much the same way that CNBC does.

Independent market research indicates that well-heeled men gravitate toward business news channels like CNBC, premium cable channels like HBO and sports hubs like ESPN, Golf Channel and the Tennis Channel.

Mr. Scanlon asserted that Velocity’s target demographic samples those channels, but doesn’t stick with any of them. “I think our brand is much more clearly defined,” he said.

Bob Shullman, the president of the market research company Ipsos Mendelsohn, said his most recent survey of media habits found that adults with high incomes consumed more content this year than in years past, consistent with surveys of the broader population that have found increased time being spent with media. He said of Velocity, “Obviously, it will take a large investment, great product and great marketing, but the targets are there.”

Velocity is the latest instance of channel retooling by Discovery, which has already turned Discovery Health into the Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN for short; Discovery Kids into the Hub; and fitTV into Discovery Fit and Health.

The company started HD Theater in 2002 as a place for high-definition versions of its other channels’ shows; now it is largely obsolete because most of the other channels are available in high definition. Mr. Zaslav said that the channel “reaches a wealthier demographic, because by definition you need to have an HD set and an HD receiver.”

That’s one of the reasons why rich men are being pursued by the rebranded Velocity. Mr. Scanlon is importing several car-themed programs from HD Theater, including “Inside West Coast Customs,” “Chasing Classic Cars” and “Mecum Auto Auction,” and he is adding shows like “Epic Poker League,” “Extreme Fishing” and “Tech Toys.”

Velocity’s advertising deals do not include income guarantees of the audience. “The Velocity target list is a much broader base of clients than just those that are considered upscale,” a spokesman for the channel said in an e-mail message.

In part that’s because the channel knows that many of Velocity’s viewers will be aspirational — the men who, in Mr. Scanlon’s words, “drive a Pontiac, but are going to drive a Porsche.”

“If we hit the target” demographic, he added, “there’s an entire population right below them that we’ll attract.”

According to the Census Bureau data, almost six million men have incomes of $100,000 to $150,000.

Velocity may learn from WealthTV, a independent cable channel that started seven years ago. “We have found that people really like to watch programs about high-end toys and lifestyle,” said Robert Herring, the channel’s chief executive. It’s vicarious living, he said: “Even if you own a yacht, you probably won’t be invited to just take a tour of someone else’s yacht. We give everyone that chance.”

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