I recently turned on the Outdoor Life Network to watch some hockey and found myself slightly disoriented. Instead of the usual chunky OLN logo in the corner of the screen, there was a new aggressive-looking, red-on-black “VS.” hanging there. Were they re-branding their NHL coverage or something? When I tuned back in a few days later, the “VS.” remained. This time on top of “Survivor.” Two questions sprung to mind: Did OLN change its name? And, who watches re-runs of “Survivor”?
I soon discovered that the American version of OLN did indeed become “Versus” this September. Despite my fascination with the folks that brought us Samurai bass-fishing, I somehow missed the memo on this. And it’s quite a memo. “Versus will focus squarely on competition and every aspect of the competitive world,” the official press release tells us, “whether it is Man vs. Man, Man vs. Beast, or Team vs. Team.” In seventh-grade English class, I learned that there are a few basic conflicts in literature — and in life. Man vs. Man? Check. Man v. Beast? We called it, Man vs. Nature. Close enough. Team vs. Team? Now that’s a new one. I’ll add it to my list. But they’re missing a couple: Man v. Himself and Man vs. The Supernatural. I have a call in to the freshly-named station to see if they can work these in.
The memo also informs us that coming up with a new name is no walk in the park. It requires serious competition: “After sifting through hundreds of potential ideas, OLN began rigorously testing those the network felt had potential,” they write. “Versus was the name that consistently rose to the top in focus group after focus group.” Are you supposed to mention focus groups in a press release? Doesn’t branding require the illusion of inspiration?
Versus, which is owned by Comcast, was launched in 1995. Its original name (Outdoor Life Network) was licensed from Outdoor Life magazine. It focused on fishing, hunting, and other field-and-stream pursuits. Eventually, cycling, extreme sports (including extreme paintball), and trumped-up contests (like those performed by the “Samurai Sportsman”) were added to the mix; the logo was revamped; and the network dropped the “Outdoor” in favor of the abbreviation OLN (Ironically, they tell us “Versus” tested better than “Vs.”). When it snatched up the NHL TV contract last year, the network was thought to be making a run at ESPN. Now they’ve added some college football and basketball. “The new moniker,” the Versus memo says, is “a culmination of a two-year network evolution.”
But if I wasn’t quite convinced about the new name, I was soon set at ease. “Sports fans felt it was not only strong, but that it conveyed an idea and an energy that suggests a network experience centered on competition.” The release also lets us know that Versus was chosen for its “bold nature.” Is it the sound of the word “versus” that constitutes its “bold nature,” or is it just the letter “V”? I wish I had a focus group on this.
The word “versus” comes to us from the past participle of the Latin verb “vertere,” meaning “to turn.” In this case, it denotes two opposing things turned toward one another. Some other words that come from that root are “vertigo,” “introvert,” and “pervert.” Still another is “verses.” I like to think that someone will mis-hear the name of the network as “Verses” and expect programming about Sylvia Plath or H.D. Perhaps, some day they’ll combine the two and show poetry slams, verses versus verses. Or better yet, they could make an Iliad mini-series starring NHL players. Sidney Crosby could be Achilles. “Sing Goddess of the rage of Crosby, son of Gretzky, and of the goals he scored.” That would be bold.
Austin, do you know if the change is going to affect Bill Dance Outdoors? I guess that would fall into the “Man v. Beast” category.
EJ, I hope Bill Dance will continue as scheduled. They’ve even added some new fishing programs like the wacky “Off the Hook”: “This motley crew of Brooklynites travel the globe in search of the next fishing hot spot while serving up a generous helping of New York attitude wherever they go.”
And there’s always the Barbecue Championship Series. Man v. Meat?