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Agrimarketing : January-Febuary 2010
26 Agri Marketing January/February 2010 It has been a remarkable run for RFD-TV, Omaha, NE, which is the only TV network in the U.S. solely dedicated to serving agricultural producers and consumers living in rural areas, as it enters its tenth year of broadcasting. "It was launched with essentially no funding, using borrowed equip- ment and quite frankly, not having a clue on where it was going, except we knew a channel to serve rural America was long overdue," says the network's founder Patrick Gottsch. "Everyone thinks there was some grand master plan. Let me tell you, there was not." We caught up with Gottsch in Pasadena, CA, at the Tournament of Roses Parade where RFD-TV was sponsoring the FFA float. Another of the company's long and continually growing list of innovations. "We decided to showcase FFA to the 100 million people worldwide who would be be viewing the parade by featuring the good work being done by young leaders in agricul- ture," explains Gottsch. "From day one, RFD-TV's primary goal has been to find common ground for urban, rural and suburban residents again." And that it has. The network can now be viewed in 40 million house- holds and, according to A.C. Nielsen, 13 million people tune in each week. IN THE BEGINNING Raised on a farm near Elkhorn, NE, now a far western suburb of Omaha, Gottsch says he watched all of the ag programming the local TV stations were broadcasting in the 1960s. The programs included early morning ag news, a half-hour report over the noon and the perennially favorite "Farm Family Of The Week." Over the years, all of the ag programming disappeared as the stations focused their efforts and programming on the urban and suburban consumer. After attending college at Sam Houston State University and working as a commodity broker at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Gottsch, who still had the "farming bug" returned home in the late 1970s and tried his hand at it. However, timing was against him, as the ag economy sank into a deep depression throughout the early 1980s. Gottsch was just one of its thousands of victims. "I've always had a fascination with gadgets," Gottsch reports. "One day I was driving to a meeting and saw a man installing one of those first generation, 10-foot satellite dishes on a farm. I stopped to learn more about it and found out this new system would deliver 100 TV channels to rural homes that were not, and would probably never would, be served by cable." Seeing the opportunity to serve his beloved agricultural community and those consumers who chose to live in rural areas, Gottsch formed E.T. Installations, a company that sold and installed C-band home satellites. "A few weeks after I installed each sys- tem," Gottsch says, "I would call the customers to make sure everything was working OK and to, hopefully, get some leads and referrals." On nearly every call back, customers would praise the system for opening up the entire world of TV program- ming to them. They also asked, "Why isn't there a channel dedicated to rural folks?" "I'd heard the request so many times, I was convinced there was an opportunity to provide it," Gottsch says.So, he built a business plan and started down the traditional path of finding potential investors to fund it. All he ran into were brick walls. "I must have given a hundred presen- tations, all with the same result: no interest," Gottsch says. THE BIG BREAK Then in early 2000, Gottsch got his first big break. DISH Network had been launched in 1996. Its new technology replaced the huge antennas with much smaller ones and did not require the $3,000 up front investment the C-band units did. "I met with DISH's President Charlie Ergen and a group of poten- tial investors and reviewed my plan with them," Gottsch says. "Like all of my other meetings, the investors were gazing out the window, checking their watches, etc. However, I could tell I had Ergen's attention." After the meeting, Ergen pulled Gottsch aside and suggested he apply the network for non-profit status and apply for carriage on DISH. Gottsch jumped at the chance and the RFD-TV network was launched in December 2000. But there was one problem. The channel had very little programming. In fact, RFD-TV was launched with only five hours of program- ming which looped continually for an entire week. The first programs included "U.S. Farm Report" (then featuring prominent farm broad- casters Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong), "California Country," produced by that state's Farm Bureau and "This Week in Louisiana Agriculture," also a Farm Bureau production. 1OTH ANNIVERSARY FOR RFD-TV by the Agri Marketing Editors THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX RFD-TV Founder Patrick Gottsch in his office. Behind him is a photo of him at age 10 and his Dad cutting silage on their Nebraska farm.
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