Fuel TV’s GM George Greenberg On Increasing Ratings & Broadening The Network’s Audience

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Fuel TV announced last week that long-time Vice President and General Manager CJ Olivares was stepping down from his role with the network and Fox Sports Network’s George Greenberg would be filling his shoes. Greenberg, who comes from an extensive, 34-year background in television programming—has worked on a myriad of well-known shows, which range from directing ABC’s Wide World of Sports to helping develop Fox Sports Network’s Best Damn Sports Show. Coming on board with Fox nearly 17 years ago, he built up his resume working with Dave Hill and Tracy Dolgin to help develop the creative side of Fox Sports marketing and played a key role in growing the Fox Sports Network.

Working with Olivares over the past four months, Greenberg has taken on the new role at Fuel armed with ideas about how the Fox-owned network can broaden its audience base, increase it’s ratings and ultimately continue its tradition as an action sports network while diversifying its programming. We talked with him to find out more.

Tell us  about your background, and what led you to working in TV production?

Story telling for me, because I came from ABC sports, was always my base. In a promo, you  have to tell a story in 15 to 30 seconds. When you graduate to a feature producer you tell stories in 3 minutes, and when you graduate to producing and directing shows, you tell stories in one hour or two hour forms. You have to have a beginning, you have to have a middle, and you have to have an end, and you and have to communicate through entire thing, no matter what the length of time.

The idea that entertainment can work itself into a sports genre and they go hand in hand was pretty evident when I came back to the network, because Best Damn Sports Show was an entertainment show that happened to evolve in the world of sports. When you have Tom Arnold as one of your hosts, you know you are in the entertainment business. Sports is entertainment; that’s what we do. At Fox, we are showman. Every show we do has to appeal to the demographic, but from the beginning it has to be entertaining, whatever it is. Sports are inherently entertaining, and then when you develop shoulder programming for sports it has to be entertaining with an eye on your target demographic, as well.

Now, as general manager here, I am going to make sure we carry on a tradition. We are an action sports network for sure, and we know who our target is, but we are going to have shoulder programming that meshes very well with action sports based programming. A lot of these athletes  are crossing over now, whether it’s Travis Pastrana or Rob Dyrdek or Twitch, and it’s funny what they are doing. Travis Pastrana, just last night, was in a Nascar race with Denny Hamlin— I think it was a celebrity race— but Travis has crossed over to driving nationwide, and he’s crossing over as an FMX star. Same thing with Brian Deegan. These are action sports stars that are crossing over and broadening out, and that’s what we are going to do. Broaden out a bit, stay on target with who we are, and find programs that resonate with an action sports audience.

Television programming is a diet that needs a bit of everything in it

So will you continue to build on the expansion into MMA and Rally Racing?

You do not see a lot of MMA Fuel right now. Will we have a little bit? Yes. Will we have more? Yes, a bit more. Television programming is a diet that needs a bit of everything in it. It’s okay to have some MMA, and it’s okay to have your action sports stars appear in shoulder programming, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. At the end of the day, TV is a horse race and we need to get ratings. We are going to get ratings with action sports stars participating in shows that entertain people. We have to do that and we have to compete.

Fuel TV's Thrill Billies
Fuel TV's Thrill Billies

What exactly do you define as shoulder programming on Fuel TV at the moment?

It’s companion programming, or “like” programming. Danny and the Dingo, Built To Shred, Thrill Billies, The Standard Snowboard show, Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards. All of these shows revolve around the action sports world, and that’s what I call shoulder programming. And by the way, those shows have all been renewed because we have high hopes for them, they appeal to the core audience, and they’re fun to watch.

Why do you feel passionate about your new position at Fuel TV and delving into the action sports community?

I think we have to realize that the action sports community, people think of as a hyper niche. There is niche television, which sports programming is,  but you get into what they define now as hyper niche, not only with sports but with action sports. But if you look at the participants in action sports, their lifestyle— what they do, how they communicate, the social media they use— they are normal 12 to 34 year old guys, that’s what they do. So we need to focus on programming that appeals to that core, and I think their interest is as broad as everybody else. As guys get older, their interests become a bit different. If you look at Nascar, you have a little bit of an older audience, but you have a guy like Travis Pastrana all of a sudden in that world. If he succeeds he has the potential to be the next Dale Earnhardt Jr. and bring a whole pack of people with him. Wouldn’t that be great for Nascar to have a wonderful infusion of 18 to 34-year-olds to go watch their races? My goal here is to use action sports stars in shows, find shows that appeal to the core audience and then  entertain them when they aren’t watching the Maloof Money Cup or when they aren’t watching the U.S. Open of Surfing. Episodes of The Moto are done beautifully, we are real proud of that product and “docu-reality” are the types of shows you are going to find here in the future. You may even find more movies that appeal to this audience as well, and you may even find comedies that appeal to this audience. These are all things that we are focused on developing that make perfect sense in this world.

Jump to page two to read about how Greenberg plans to broaden Fuel’s audience and his thoughts on the recent Nielsen rating the network received.

What are some specific ideas you have for “broadening the base” of Fuel’s audience? Will that include MMA and Rally Racing?

Rally Racing is something that CJ brought on, and it  is something we would like to keep our eye on if we can find the right property. I’ll give you one example that we are developing right now at Speed, that’s what we call a co-pro [co-production] with Fuel, which is a show revolving around the world of Gymkhana. It has a working title, called ” Boneyard Battle X,” which is rally racing on steroids. We just did a pilot with Dave Mira that was stunning, and it was directed by The Fast And The Furious Triple X director Rob Cohen. It is shot with red cameras and phantom cameras that slow the cars down to paces you’ve never seen before, and it’s shot with a style and told with a story flare that only a movie director could bring. Rob’s vision is to make short, 42 minute movies every week with a driver and his adversary, trying to race their butts off in these supped-up cars.

It’s in pilot form, but that kind of programing should be on this network. It belongs on Speed. To a bigger picture, we are taking the force of the Fox Sports Media Group, taking the brain-trust of people that we have available to us, and applying marketing muscle to these programs that I believe is going to be unparalleled in presentation.

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When would we see something like that?

Again it’s in pilot form, but if it comes to fruition, I think Gymkhana would probably launch—if it does— next February, around Daytona 500, which is a great time to make noise through Speed because we get a lot of people watching that week. We launched a show there last year called Car Warriors, which is Iron Chef meets the wildest car building show you’ve ever seen, on steroids. That was first flag in the ground to say, “okay we are in this space,” and we are where motor sports enthusiasts live, but we can also bring in shows that are a little broader and skew a little younger. That’s sort of the magic bullet. That show could probably air here, because it’s shot at a really quick pace, the visuals are stunning and there is a lot of conflicts and a lot of characters and that’s how you build a good show to your core audience.

Just because someone lives in the action sports world, doesn’t mean they’re not exposed to everything else that goes on in the television industry.

It sounds like a lot of the shows you’ve been working on at Speed are going to maybe crossover to Fuel?

There’s a potential that some of them can. Not a lot. I think Gymkhana certainly has the potential to do it if we take it to series. There are one or two more that I can’t talk about, but hopefully we can talk about those in the future once we have a deal signed.

Just because someone lives in the action sports world, doesn’t mean they’re not exposed to everything else that goes on in the television industry. Stars in the action sports world have crossed over to MTV, to VH1, to mainstream television, and if we want to be competitive in the television landscape, we have to have shows that bring compelling characters, that bring lifestyle and at the end of the day bring ratings to this network.

The network was recently rated by Nielsen in March. How has that helped and will it continue to help in broadening your audience?

Quite simply, since we’ve seen the Nielsen ratings we haven’t been happy with our performance. We need to bring our ratings up. It’s only been approximately four weeks, and the numbers we’ve seen have been wildly up and down. So we need to get more centered on this. The more information we know, the more we can extrapolate from it. We need to be broader, and we need to be more consistent in order to be successful in this landscape. And we need to be much more aggressive in the type of programming that we put on Fuel in order to compete in this landscape, as well.

Read what Greenberg had to say on online and social media efforts, women specific programming and challenges in the TV landscape on Page Three.

How important is the online/social media component to the company’s success? What areas do you think Fuel already succeeds at with this and where do you think they need to strengthen their efforts?

I think we have a very visually stimulating website.  I think we need to have one that is more socially relevant and more interactive. The thing that’s key to me is that it ties in with our advertisers on air, because ratings have allowed us to bring in more [advertisers] and we want to make them happy on air and online. The two components together are strong, and it allows us to reach more people. We have a very vibrant, well-visited website and it can and will help us drive viewers to TV, that’s how powerful it is. We do have a staff solely dedicated to the site and social media, but it needs to be beefed up— we need to be as aggressive with the web as we are with programming and sales. They have the keys to the city as far as attracting and communicating with our young viewers.

Jason Ellis, "Ellismania" on Fuel TV
Jason Ellis, "Ellismania" on Fuel TV

You said you are going to continue working on broadening the male-based audience. What about women? Are you working on any female-specific programming, since this is a demographic that continues to grow within the action sports industry?

If you make entertaining shows for a particular audience then immediately they [the shows] will get broader in nature. The Jason Ellis series we just finished – we had series of four shows and you’d be surprised to know that half of our audience for Jason Ellis was women. If think about how many people he talks to everyday on satellite radio, he is a prominent figure that is entertaining young guys, and women, so it doesn’t surprise me at all.

When you start to break shows down, some shows have a broader demographic and some are more narrow. If you are breaking down Camp Woodward versus Ellismania, I would say skews would show Camp Woodward  had a younger audience, and my guess is that Jason Ellis was some of the broadest programming for male/female appeal for this network.

On a side note, Jason is quite a character and I would like to think about in the future for us to build a show around him. He is the perfect guy to crossover, broaden our audience and at the same time talk to the core audience, and that is television gold.

Shows with big characters, and big conflict have a good potential of bringing ratings, which brings advertisers. This is a formula for any network.

With such an extensive background in television, what is your take on the current landscape? Where are there challenges present and what strategies do you think Fuel needs to put in place to overcome them?

My gut has really not changed in a long time about this: shows with big characters, and big conflict have a good potential of bringing ratings, which brings advertisers. This is a formula for any network. You have to think bigger, and for this network to grow we have to think the same way—we have to compete in a cable landscape that broaden out that advertisers are happy with.

We want to develop long term relationships with advertisers that want to communicate with a male audience. can be broad or narrow as want, but end of the day will naturally bring in more advertisers.

Without the core advertisers that believe in this product day-in and day-out, you won’t be able to be authentic in what you do.

What do you do in your spare time?

I surf to relax; I’ve been doing that for a while. I snowboard, and I love to ride motorcycles. That’s sort of my space to relax. I never thought of them as hardcore or extreme, it’s just the best way to clear my head. People who ride— you are in the moment, that’s all you’re doing, and it’s a great way to cleanse yourself spiritually.