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Is outdoor hunting TV dead?

Is outdoor hunting tv dead

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Ten years ago, turning on the TV was one of the only ways to watch your favorite hunters and anglers harvest big game animals and rod-breaking fish from all around the world. Every day, the outdoor television schedule shifted to showcase the adventures of hunting shows like Jim Shockey's Hunting Adventures and Bone Collector as they took you on a polished 22-minute-long hunt that ended with an incredible trophy.

Over the past five years, outdoor television engagement has shifted from the highly-edited, highly-scripted shows that appear on stations like the Outdoor Channel or the Sportsman Channel to places like YouTube and Facebook. With the increased usage of smartphones and other mobile devices, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and podcast service providers are dominating the digital marketplace and impacting the outdoor industry. In fact, according to a recent PEW study, 26% of American adults say that they are online “almost constantly” and 77% of Americans go online on a daily basis.

As viewership increases and new content is posted daily, it’s no secret that emerging digital platforms are crushing traditional outdoor television, leveraging the playing field and creating new opportunities for longtime hunting celebrities as well as newer faces.

Hunting 2.0: The digital divide

Steve Rinella Meateater podcast

Photo credit: Matt Cook

“The switch to digital media in the outdoor space is related to the switch of almost everything going digital,” Steve Rinella, host of MeatEater, told goHUNT. “That's where people are watching things so that's where we want to be.”

Rinella has watched the change in real-time, gaining attention first as a published author before making the jump to The Sportsman Channel where his television show, MeatEater, aired for six seasons. He recently moved MeatEater to Netflix and expanded his digital footprint through his popular podcast.

“I’ve really embraced podcasting,” says Rinella. “In media, all you hear about is that people don’t have an appetite for anything long anymore. It’s a little depressing to hear that, but there's still a real appetite for long-form content, especially when you're able to package it in a way that allows people some flexibility in consuming it.”

Steve Rinella filming for Meateater show

Photo credit: MeatEater

A recent Edison Research and Triton Digital survey found that podcast listeners in America have steadily increased since 2006. 69% of those listeners are using a smartphone, tablet or other portable devices to tune in. Podcasts are unique in that the listener has to actively seek out the show rather than turn on the radio and listen to what’s already on. Likewise, Rinella says that, with a podcast, it’s easier to react quickly to audience feedback and inquiries.

Randy Newberg filming Fresh Tracks hunting show

Photo credit: Marcus Hockett

That engagement factor was something Randy Newberg sought out, too. In 2015, after seven years of running the popular forum, HuntTalk, Newberg turned to podcasting with his show, “Randy Newberg Unfiltered.” The following year, Newberg’s YouTube channel launched.

“Everybody told me that it was going to be a bunch of teenagers who watch it,” Randy Newberg told goHUNT. Newberg’s digital reach now spans several platforms, including Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg on Amazon, Randy Newberg, Hunter on YouTube and his podcast. “However, my analytics show that 84% of my viewership is the 25-to 64-year-old demographic. It's the demographic you hope for.”

Randy also went on to state, "In the fourth quarter on YouTube, I got more views, and much longer views, than I did for all of the third and fourth quarter on TV, when comparing a YouTube view to a TV rating view. I know my YouTube views are much longer so total consumption of content on YouTube is not only higher when measured by 'views,' but compounded further when accounting for the fact that each view is much longer than on TV. The same applies to Amazon. My unique streams for the first quarter on Amazon were higher than any quarter on TV. And my average view length was over 15 minutes, completely uninterrupted by commercials. TV cannot come close to those view lengths, mostly due to the disrupted and polluted viewing experience needed to fund TV, aka commercials."

Randy Newberg quote on outdoor hunting television

BrandWatch found that six out of 10 people prefer to watch online video platforms over live television and, in an average month, eight out of 10 individuals within the 18-to 49-year-old demographic watch YouTube. Within that same demographic, in 2015, time spent on YouTube went up by 74%; whereas, time spent watching TV decreased by 4%.

“One of the hurdles to producing TV content is they tell you how it's got to be produced,” says Newberg. “They give you these production guidelines, and then you have to go and pay them anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 a year to air your show. The financial hurdles, the barriers to entry, of producing content for TV are very high.”

Whereas, with YouTube, all you need is a video camera and a computer.

“The one thing that's great about the YouTube platform is that it doesn't have to be 100% polished. People just like to see it how it is,” Casey Lavere told goHUNT. Lavere is one of three vloggers who post regularly to the YouTube hunting and fishing channel, Hushin, which they started in 2011. With over 200,000 subscribers, Lavere—along with Brian McElrea and Eric Chesser—built their following without any prior television experience or celebrity status.

Hushin filming on a hunt

Photo courtesy: Hushin

“It's very raw,” McElrea says of the YouTube experience. “You're filming on a point and shoot camera, the edits are quick and fast and just the complete opposite of what you see on [traditional] TV.”

That realness allows the Hushin crew to cultivate direct relationships with their viewing audience – a benefit of YouTube that they pay close attention to.

Casey Brian and Eric of Hushin

Photo courtesy: Hushin

“I believe we're so successful on all of our platforms because we speak directly to our audience,” says Chesser, who handles Hushin's social media and engagement. “They want to feel like they're hanging out and are part of what you're doing. We ask questions, ask them for their stories or comments; engagement is high on the priority list of everything we do.”

Rinella has similar results through his digital platforms, particularly with his podcast. In one podcast episode, he made a point of reading and discussing all of the emails and opinions of his listeners, which, he says, made his audience realize he was actually listening to what they had to say and considering their viewpoints.

That show, he says, “was like opening up the valves and, all of a sudden, we got flooded by people who understood that we took the audience seriously.”

Born and Raised Outdoors filming for Land Of The Free

For Kody Kellom, who started Born And Raised Outdoors in 2007 and produced hunting DVDs before a brief stint on The Sportsman Channel, switching from traditional outdoor television to digital was a way to directly connect with his audience and discuss issues like the public land debate. Kellom began posting regular content to his YouTube channel 13 months ago, using direct interaction and immediate feedback to help decide how the channel’s content should evolve.

“Our biggest focus is to document and not create,” Kellum told goHUNT. “While we filmed our biggest project, Land of the Free, we let the hunts unfold how they unfolded. We showed the struggles, the highs, the lows and the bond between us as hunters during our public land elk hunt. And our viewers really attached to that.”

The future of outdoor hunting television

Randy Newberg filming another segment of his hunting show

Photo credit: Matthew Newberg

“Everybody predicted the demise of print when the internet came along and print is still relevant, it's just morphed into something else and is much smaller,” says Newberg. “Outdoor TV is going to shrink and struggle to compete with emerging technologies, too.”

Newberg points to the way digital platforms have disrupted content distribution, switching from the pay-to-view model to one that is free and open. Brands are also beginning to understand the importance of embracing this new model.

“I would say, 90% of outdoor companies out there have a much better understanding of digital media,” says McElrea. “They now understand the value of platforms like Instagram and Facebook and YouTube. They are much more aware of how an ambassador can influence not only brand awareness, but actual products and sales for their company. But I think we're still probably two or three years away from companies being completely 100% bought in. A lot of that is because it's so new.”

One of those companies, Leupold & Stevens, Inc., is the headline sponsor of Newberg’s Amazon Prime show.

“Though we do have numerous partners – all of whom we are very proud to support – within the television sphere, we’re always monitoring how our consumers are receiving their content,” Michael Wunnicke, director of marketing for Leupold & Stevens, Inc., told goHUNT. “Every year, more and more hunters and shooters are turning to various digital platforms to consume media. We’ve been paying attention to that, and have relentlessly worked to adapt our marketing executions accordingly, so as to provide our consumers with the content they want on the media platforms they’re accessing.”

Rinella believes that the next step for digital platforms is figuring out a way to create a more efficient system to find trusted sources for content, saying, “[Consumers] won’t want to hunt it down piece by piece by piece.”

Filming an elk hunt with Born and Raised Outdoors

Photo credit: Andy Milward

“The paying for content model isn’t going to last,” says Kellom, who surmises that traditional TV will lose its allure on future generations as viewing habits shift even more to YouTube, Amazon Prime, Netflix and other not-yet-available digital technology.

Newberg hopes that digital platforms will help push the conservation agenda forward and promote hunting and fishing industries, too. He believes multiple accessible platforms will bring more people to the table to discuss important issues because of the collective connectivity. The future of outdoor content is in digital platforms and all they have to offer.

“TV is like this disconnected silo standing out there,” says Newberg. “Everything else I do is just one click away.”


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James E. - posted 2 years ago on 05-12-2018 07:27:14 am

Agreed. I feel a large portion of this is due in part that so much of the crap on TV is just another whitetail farm in the midwest or Texas. Its not genuine or anything your average hunter can relate to. I don't give a rats ass about Jason Aldean shooting a deer on a paid whitetail ranch. Not knocking bass fisherman, but holy crap, how many bass tournaments do they really need to air. All the good stuff is digital, The Hunting Public, MeatEater, Randy Newberg, Midwest Whitetail, Solo Hunter, Just need Western Hunter to get on youtube or Netflix.

Tim A. - posted 2 years ago on 05-05-2018 12:39:27 pm
Alexandria, VA

I’m with Scott below. I probably won’t ever be able to own or lease a big piece of private. Mr. Newberg is very inspirational for me and I love his YouTube / podcast/ forum content. I learn every time I consume it and it keeps getting better!

David B. - posted 2 years ago on 04-24-2018 01:23:39 pm

Just seems more authentic on YouTube. Born and Raised Outdoors has taken that to a new level.

David B. - posted 2 years ago on 04-24-2018 01:12:54 pm

Just seems more authentic on YouTube. Born and Raised Outdoors has taken that to a new level.

Brent D. - posted 2 years ago on 04-23-2018 11:39:04 am
Parma, Idaho

YouTube is the only thing I watch, I hate commercials...and hate paying for dish or cable. If it's not on YouTube, then I don't watch it. It's also better because those folks have more control over what and how they film.

Donald B. - posted 2 years ago on 04-23-2018 07:09:05 am

Seth D. is right about YouTube. You can watch what ever you want when you want.

Seth D. - posted 2 years ago on 04-23-2018 06:30:23 am
Public Lands

A friend of mine has a hunting channel. His name is Hauke Braun, and he is fairly famous here in Europe.

He told me about 3 years ago that the days of Shockey and Realtree folks are almost over. I believe we are seeing what we was talking about.

Jason from Kuiu has said he doesn't see the need for sponsored hunters. I don't either, why would you deal with that BS if you didn't have to.

I will continue to read hunting magazines, but see zero reason to turn on the TV, everything I want is on youtube.

Donald B. - posted 2 years ago on 04-21-2018 01:10:05 pm

Very good perspective by Scott L. I've been hunting a little bit longer than him ( Vietnam included), but he's spot on.

Scott L. - posted 2 years ago on 04-21-2018 10:53:07 am
Mohave Co., Arizona

I have been hunting for 45 years and I have all but given up on hunting shows on TV. I have successfully hunted nearly every big game animal in North America and done it on my own, without a guide, and on public land. I've done my own research and scouting, sat in a tree stand and spot n stalked Eastern Whitetail successfully. As well as hunted all over the West DIY on public land. With the sole exception of a precious few shows, i.e. Randy Newberg, Steve Rinella, Remi Warren, and a couple of others, outdoor TV teaches and contributes absolutely nothing to the viewer's knowledge. Unless of course you're interested in learning about food plots or the newest scent killer product. In my opinion, with the exception of the above named individuals, nearly every show is nothing more than an infomercial. The list of these "hunting" shows could go on and on and on.

Further, they are not "hunting" shows, they are "shooting" shows. They are filmed on private ranches where the "trophy" is nearly a given. They don't 'hunt', they simply sit and wait in an area where they know the monster buck or bear resides, making the desired animal nearly a given.

When you contrast these shows with guys like Randy, Steve, or Remi, you quite easily can see the difference. The vast majority of American hunters have to get boots on the ground, scout, spot & stalk on public land not private game farms. I learn from Randy, even when he does not have a successful hunt.

I use YouTube because I can find shows that provide me with a more realistic experience and learn something that I may or may not have know. These shooting shows should get out, do it like America does it, and provide us with a more realistic hunt if they want to be successful in the future.

Joseph T. - posted 2 years ago on 04-21-2018 08:06:39 am
Lost River, Idaho

See what MotorTrend has done with the automotive scene. They're "on-demand" platform is seamless. This is what hunters/Anglers need, a platform for all things Hunting/Fishing, where there's feed to flourish.

Chuck G. - posted 2 years ago on 04-20-2018 11:43:57 am
Seattle, WA

It's not dead but the industry would benefit from brands finding ways to authentically evolve storytelling. Too many brands are scripting/shooting the story the same way as others resulting in watered down outdoor programming filmed similarly, basically the same b-roll & edit. This, in turn, drives content consumption and ad revenues down. If we create better content outdoor programming will be fine, even if it lives primarily within digital channels.

I posted a topic last week on ways outdoor brands can modernize; my first point - evolve storytelling.

Good topic, thanks for posting.

Gary H. - posted 2 years ago on 04-20-2018 06:36:19 am

Jackie Bushman - I watched him climb on top of a truck to get away from a rattlesnake...
Bill Jordan - Hunting ranches with high fences
Jim Shockey - He hunts with and endorses the crossman airbow for god sakes....
Michael Waddell - I watched him shoot a turkey off of a branch on TV...
Jay Gregory - The guy puts gel in his hair and also frosts his hair.

Hard to believe that people are watching real world guys getting ti done on youtube nowadays.

Nathan M. - posted 2 years ago on 04-19-2018 06:59:13 pm

Good riddance to the scripted garbage on TV. It does nothing but pimp the outdoors for the almighty dollar and portray hunting in a negative manner.

Hushin, Meat Eater, Fresh Tracks, B&R, these guys are authentic- legit, and actually promote hunting in a positive manner.

Duane B. - posted 2 years ago on 04-19-2018 05:48:30 pm
Atascadero, CA

If there will be something that causes the death of hunting shows, TV or online, it will be the over-produced sellouts that are peddling it. Newberg and Rinella WERE great, now just corporate crap, like pop country. Plus, someone needs to tell Rinella that he needs to clean up his podcasts. I used to tell people to listen to his podcast, but most of them try it once or twice and then tell me no thanks for the potty-mouthed blowhard. None of these clowns hunt like I hunt. Of course, I'm not sucking up to sponsors and selling product constantly...Oh and enough of the slo-mo footage. Just makes me think that you had little to offer, guys...

Joseph A. - posted 2 years ago on 04-19-2018 04:58:34 pm
Nashville, TN

Very accurate article. People want to hear the real story done on public land and that’s what the digital media platforms provide.

Donald B. - posted 2 years ago on 04-19-2018 04:34:08 pm

The hunting and fishing stars of this country have a bigger problem. Every year the numbers of hunting and fishing licenses sold in this country have declined for many years.

Mark E. - posted 2 years ago on 04-19-2018 04:31:17 pm

The quality of “online” content is far superior to most of the trash on TV. Some of the shows (I’ll refrain from bashing here) need to go away as they do nothing positive for the perception of the institution of hunting. We, as hunters, owe it to our future to produce and support content that aligns with our values and passions. Otherwise we will all be watching hunting on YouTube because that’s all that’ll be left.

Zachariah H. - posted 2 years ago on 04-19-2018 04:20:37 pm

The Born and Raised Land of the Free 5 State hunt is an amazing piece of documentation.