By Randee Dawn
Twenty-five consecutive days of live golf programming? That’s not a schedule fit for every TV viewer, but for Golf Channel fanatics it’s a clear hole-in-one. The channel has been airing ongoing matches with nary a break in the action since May 14. Golf Channel is the most affluent ad-supported network in TV, and since joining NBC Sports Group in 2011 the 20-year-old network has boosted ratings by 57 percent. But how do you keep golf fanatics from retreating to the clubhouse when there’s no live action? SVP of programming Tom Knapp explained to Cynsiders how to avoid that particular sand trap.
Cynsiders: Golf Channel is the very definition of niche programming. So how does this work in your favor?
Tom Knapp: I prefer “targeted” to “niche,” but in our case it enables us to reach what we think is the most valuable person on television. This sport is in the wheelhouse of many of the country’s influencers, and it’s a group a lot of advertisers and sponsors are looking for.
Cynsiders: Does being “targeted” work against you in any way?
Knapp: We prefer what we have [in terms of audience size] because frankly the broader the audience gets the more diluted it gets. The center of our wheelhouse is to program golf to the most influential viewers in the country. We’d love to broaden our audience to general sports fans, but we know what we are and we know what we’re good at. We’re not trying to be something we’re not.
Cynsiders: You can’t find live golf programming 24/7 in most cases, so what do you do when there are no games?
Knapp: Typically, golf is played Thursday through Sunday, and there’s no shortage of that. At any time we have two to five tours on the air. What we’ve done recently is partner with some of golf’s governing bodies to play on alternate days, much as some other sports organizations have done. We’ve recently announced the East Lake Cup, which will take place in November in Atlanta and feature the semifinalists of the NCAA championship. We’re excited about that collegiate space and look to expand that platform.
Cynsiders: Clearly televising college golf is a new field for you as compared to collegiate basketball and football, for example. But how do you avoid some of the ways those televised sports have altered – some say not for the better – the amateur sports experience?
Knapp: We’re at the early stages, and can learn a lot from what other collegiate sports have gone through. The individual conferences have been great about looking to accommodate our schedule and provide these extra play dates. Golf is a long way from having those issues.
Cynsiders: You have so much live programming, which is a real brass ring for all channels these days, isn’t it?
Knapp: In [the DVR-centric] viewing environment of time-shifting, live [sports] is still where viewers watch when a show is scheduled. Something is happening now and they don’t want to know the result first – they want to watch it when it takes place. That’s created a lot of value for our network.
Cynsiders: Do people enjoy reruns of classic golf tournaments as well?
Knapp: They do; that’s one way we grow and enhance large tournament weeks. We program a show called Golf’s Greatest Rounds and we’ll show things like great Ryder Cups from the past. It might not be live, but it is an event and a lot of viewers get excited by that. It’s a great promotional vehicle as well.
Cynsiders: What’s changed in the cable business since Golf Channel premiered in 1995?
Knapp: Clearly the multi-platform opportunity is the biggest challenge. I came to Golf Channel in 2002, and at the time we were programming to one linear television network. Now we have so many more ways to program out. You have to stay in touch with how the viewers take in content in different times and different places. Second, the on-demand availabilities of most television are the last thing a programmer wants – you want appointment viewing, people who will check in with you because something’s important; live TV is one area that still does that.
25 Days of Golf ends on June 7.
Tom Knapp is the SVP, programming for Golf Channel, responsible for programming and scheduling strategies designed to maximize the network’s viewership, including creating and acquiring new programming, research, scheduling and strategic partnership issues. Previously Knapp worked at XOS Digital Media and NBC in New York.
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