'A lot of high fives' in Hartford: Back9Network's president on its DirecTV deal
By Peter Finch
Back9Network, a fledgling TV channel covering "the golf lifestyle," will appear on the DirecTV satellite network starting this fall, company officials announced Monday morning. Until now, programming from the Connecticut-based channel had appeared only online and in Swing by Swing, a golf GPS smartphone app it acquired earlier this year.
Back9Network will become DirecTV's channel 262 and will be available to most of its roughly 20 million subscribers, officials say. They declined to discuss any financial elements of the deal.
I interviewed Back9Network president Carlos Silva about the announcement and where his channel goes from here.
Q. How did you hear the news about the DirecTV deal?
We found out late Friday evening (June 13) that everything was approved, and we signed the deal. Our CFO and head of business development, Charles Cox, brought in a signed document while I was on a conference call and showed it to me.
Q. Was there a big celebration in Hartford?
Yes. A lot of high fives.
Q. Is it all your programming or will be there be any paid programming?
There will certainly be some overnight paid programming. There will be four hours of live studio shows a day. There will be shows in around the golf lifestyle: food, fashion, autos, travel destinations. And then there will also be some original prime-time shows that launch on Sept. 29. The three shows that we've talked about for the launch are "The Ahmad Rashad Show," a show called "Ball Hog," which is about a company that actually dives into the ponds or lakes at golf courses and reclaims golf balls as a business, and another show called "Golf Treasures," which is a couple of guys who have an auction house that is in the business of acquiring historical golf artifacts
Q. Can you talk about how this deal came to be?
Sure. "There once was a vision..." (Laughs.) And that vision was that golf is more than just the pro game covered as a live sport. It's really a game where you hang out with your friends, your buddies, your family, and you enjoy not only the game but the lifestyle, the camaraderie, the before and after, the food and the travel. There really needed to be an outlet to bring in that mass market.
About nine months ago Bloomberg came out with a report that said golf and the lifestyle of golf was a $177 billion industry. The thesis was that the pro game and live coverage of it was tapping into 10 or 15 percent of that marketplace. There's a big [opportunity] to talk to the mass golf lifestyler, around the travel, the fashion, the food, equipment, the second homes. It's about more than just the birdies and bogeys of the pro game.
We began building the Back9Network and started talking about the television network and doing what you do with the (satellite and cable-TV) distributors and helping them to understand all the different components that you've got to put together so they're ultimately comfortable launching that television network. In the meantime, we were continuing to build an audience on some of the other multiplatform and digital destinations that would also show them the thesis would come true and that we could aggregate an audience around these golf lifestylers, these Back9ers as we like to call them.
Q. Do you think this will help you get on cable?
For sure. There's no doubt the most difficult thing in launching a new television network is to get launched. It sounds funny to say it. But for a while we said we were a TV network but we weren't on TV. So it was starting to get difficult to tell your parents what you do for a living. Being on TV is the key. We'll be on television starting Sept. 29 on DirecTV. The great thing about DirecTV is they have national coverage, so the advertisers that come will have national footprint. That gives us the opportunity to go look at the other satellite operators, the telcos like AT&T and Fios, as well as the regional cable operators, to go do the second- and third- and fourth-year deals.
Q. Do you view Back9Network as a competitor to Golf Channel?
We really see us as a complement. One of the comparisons I like to use is E! Entertainment at the Oscars. They do the on-ramp and off-ramp to the Oscars, but the live show is on ABC. We feel there are a lot of complements to being that on- and off-ramp to the live game -- being able to feel like you were at Pinehurst even though you may never get to go to a U.S. Open. What's it like to be at U.S. Open? What's the town like? What are the restaurants like? What's the travel like? How are the players getting in and out? Where are they staying? What's the feeling like when you're there during tournament week? That's a lot of what will be on the Back9Network.
Q. How many full-time employees do you have these days, and are you adding?
We're definitely adding, and we have approximately 50.
Q. When you were just getting started a couple of years back, you were citing people like Clint Eastwood, Ray Allen and Geno Auriemma as partners and supporters and board members. I don't see those names on the website now. Are they still involved?
They are. They are exactly what you said: supporters, investors, advisers. All three of those names still fall into that category, along with a bunch of others. We've added talent to the lineup as well, with Ahmad Rashad joining us over the last few months and having a prime time show with us. And then we continue to add to our investor base as well.
Q. What's next for Back9Network?
It's little short-sighted, but launching. We have a lot of work to really put out a high-quality product in September. It's only a few months away. We're finishing up studios here in downtown Hartford. The focus over the next three months is really heads down on putting everything together, getting everything done. It's about continuing to grow the audience. We've got a really great digital presence that ends up being a great marketing arm for us. So we're going to continue to nurture and take care of that, so we can talk to all those folks who aren't part of the "Back9 family" and tell them about channel 262 on DirecTV when we launch.