Outdoor writer and TV host Mark Romanack takes a still photo of Josh Crabtree while filming an episode of Fishing 411 on the Kalamazoo River in southern Michigan.
By: Mark Romanack
The one thing that’s consistent about the outdoor industry is this business never stands still. Case in point, the outdoor television industry has grown exponentially from modest beginnings into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. The pioneers of the outdoor television business shot their shows on motion picture film and lugged around TV cameras half the size of a Volkswagen and twice as expensive. Guys like Jerry McKinnis, Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, Mort Neff and Wally Taber were part time outdoorsmen, part time story tellers, part time film makers and full time entrepreneurs.
The pioneers of outdoor television were truly an elite group of outdoorsmen. Only a handful of these guys had the financing and fortitude to literally produce something out of nothing.
Today outdoor TV is shot on digital video gear that fits nicely in a pocket and costs about the same as a quality shotgun, rifle or fly rod. The affordability of the gear and knowledge needed to create outdoor TV has lead to a flood of outdoor TV producers chasing the “golden ring”.
Modern day outdoor television has grown into a mainstream entertainment business. At last glance over 1,500 different independent producers create television content that airs weekly on the major nationally broadcast networks including Sportsman Channel, Outdoor Channel, Pursuit Channel, World Fishing Network, Hunt Channel and NBC Sports. In addition, a slug of local outdoor TV shows also air on public broadcast TV and local network affiliates like Fox Sports.
In short, a hunting, fishing or shooting enthusiast could watch outdoor TV non-stop for weeks without running out of interesting content. Ironically, in the early days of outdoor television, the networks payed producers to create outdoor TV on their behalf.
How times have changed. The modern business model for outdoor TV is much different. Popular TV shows like Fishing 411 purchase air time packages from established networks (World Fishing Network) and in turn try to make a profit by selling “commercial minutes” to perspective sponsors.
This is the primary reason outdoor TV has become overly “commercial” in the minds of many viewers. The cost of creating high quality outdoor television is exorbitant and the only way to recover those costs and make a reasonable profit requires partnering with well known outdoor brands.
Interestingly, some of the bigger hunting and fishing brands choose not to partner with established outdoor TV producers, but rather to build their own TV show from the ground up. The sole purpose of these shows is to market established brands and bolster sales in the process.
It’s true that outdoor television has become more “commercial”, but it’s also true that the content provided does a pretty good job of informing and entertaining outdoor enthusiasts. One of the nice things about having 1,500 different outdoor TV shows to pick from is if you don’t like one, there are lots of others to tune into!
On location in Alaska, Gabe VanWormer films an interview or what we call “tech segment” with Fishing 411 TV host Jake Romanack.
ON DEMAND TV
Some years ago Netflix rocked the network TV world by live streaming popular television shows. For a small monthly fee Netflix provides their customers a huge assortment of television entertainment options.
The business model created by Netflix is currently being mirrored by My Outdoor TV, a similar on-demand television provider owned by Outdoor Sportsman Group, the folks who produce Sportsman Channel, Outdoor Channel and World Fishing Network. Again for a modest monthly fee subscribers can live stream a wide variety of popular outdoor television programming.
A different business model for on-demand outdoor television is also surfacing. Companies like WaypointTV and also CarbonTV are also web based, on-demand television providers. The big difference with Waypoint and Carbon is they offer up live streaming for outdoor programming at no cost to the consumer or the producer.
That’s right, imagine watching just about any outdoor television show you want free of charge any time you want to watch? It’s no surprise that “free” and “on-demand” are powerful tools when it comes to providing popular outdoor television content. These free video streaming services feature not only full length television episodes, but a wealth of short vignette and “how to” style videos as well.
REALITY OUTDOOR TV
Perhaps the final piece of the outdoor television pie can be described as reality outdoor television. Deadliest Catch was the first outdoor show to make it big in the reality TV market. Others like Duck Dynasty, Mountain Men and Swamp People have quickly followed.
While reality TV doesn’t exactly depict anything that might really happen in the outdoors, these shows are drama driven, very entertaining and growing rapidly in popularity. Ironically, the characters who appear on reality TV are generally “paid performers” or “talent” and the network profits by selling advertising that runs in combination with these shows.
SUMMING IT UP
Outdoor television has changed a bunch over the years. From modest beginnings, the outdoor television industry has morphed into a form of entertainment no one 40 years ago could have predicted. The good news is those who live for the outdoors have no shortage of outdoor programs to watch and enjoy.