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Latest CART News and Commentary

Q&A with SPEED's Jim Liberatore
on direction of network
January 5, 2004

Q: SPEED Channel rolled past the 60-million US household mark in December. The network has been atop the growth charts for months, having added 19 million households in the last two years. Are you comfortable with SPEED's numbers?

Liberatore: "I am comfortable because it's the pace we had hoped for and expected all along. We have aggressive expectations and we are fulfilling them. You would expect that with the NASCAR deal and some of the exclusive deals we have with other racing series, that we would have that kind of growth.

"I realize that we are a niche network, but when we are compared to other niche networks, it's like apples and oranges. We have live, first-run airings of the best of our genre, which other networks don't. So, we should be growing like this.

"Will we continue to be the fastest growing sports cable network -- no. When you start getting to 60 million homes and then to 65, it does start to slow. Some of the networks that are just starting up will obviously start to grow faster than SPEED. Going from zero to seven million homes is a lot easier than going from 60 to 67 million."

Q: What were some of SPEED Channel's highlights in 2003? What did you learn from them?

Liberatore: "I look at highlights in two ways. First, a highlight that we learned from, which doesn't necessarily mean it was good for us short term, but good because we learned valuable lessons along the way. For example, one thing we learned was replays of racing in Prime Time does not work. Whether it's NASCAR or any other series, it simply does not work. So, what we've done is take some of the replays out of the 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. time slot.

"We've also learned that some of the automotive enthusiast magazine shows do very well in that same time slot with some of them attracting younger demos -- although, I am not as fascinated or enamored with the younger demo as everyone else seems to be. I'd prefer to hit the upscale 25-54 guy with disposable income. That's the demo we are proud of at SPEED. Certainly, we'd like some programming for the 18-34, but we are not going to completely change the network to reach them. We're very happy with the audience we have.

"Shows like American Muscle Car and Two Guys Garage have scored well with just a moderate amount of promotion. We may have wasted a little money last year, because we really didn't know ourselves. By focusing all our promotional dollars on racing, we are like the acne-faced teenager that's just figuring out where he wants to go and what he wants to be. But we have learned.

"The second part of the highlights would be the pleasant surprises. Foremost, the SPEED staff rose to the challenges we faced as such a young organization. The fact that we are young means we have to do a lot of thinking on our feet -- we need a lot of creativity, work and time. And the staff has come through brilliantly."

Q: SPEED Channel is the obvious benchmark for motor sports coverage. How do you bring the qualities that separate SPEED's race coverage over to the auto enthusiast programming?

Liberatore: "Talent is where it all begins and ends. I think that is where we have done a good job -- and we should. If our genre is motor sports, we should have the best commentators in the business and clearly we do. When you get into these other programs, the same principle applies. When we wanted to do a show about car auctions, Barrett-Jackson was the best in the business, so naturally we partnered with them. This extends to the use of the Barrett-Jackson name and the Barrett-Jackson expertise in our new show, Car Search.

"It is all about maintaining the talent level. Within the industry, we get very caught up in production value. Outside of the industry, I don't think anyone else really does -- as long as it's good. What makes or breaks everything is talent, and we are going to continue to identify, attract and employ the best talent available whether it's racing or magazines or anything else."

Q: Will all the racing series that were on SPEED Channel in 2003 be back in 2004?

Liberatore: "CART will not. I do not want to announce anything until they do, but CART will not be back on SPEED Channel. Trans-Am will not be back on SPEED as far as we know today. As far as I know, that's it."

Q: Is SPEED Channel talking to any other racing series about coming to the network?

Liberatore: "We are talking to the guys at IROC. Nothing is finalized yet. There aren't a lot of other series out there that are looking for a home. The IRL and NHRA still have deals with ESPN."

Q: SPEED Channel is casually defined as the "racing" network or the "motor sports" network. Is that a fair description?

Liberatore: "Yes - it's fair because it's important to what we do, but it's limiting. It doesn't describe us completely, but certainly it's fair because that's what we've promoted in the last year. Partially, we are a motor sports network and partially we are an auto enthusiast network. And I think viewers are going to see a lot more of the enthusiast personality with enhanced and better programming."

Q: Wind Tunnel has rapidly become one of SPEED Channel's signature programs. How do explain the early success of the Tunnel?

Liberatore: "It's Dave (Despain). He's probably more knowledgeable about more forms of motor sports than anyone out there. He's so diverse. His delivery is great, he's no nonsense and he can get through a lot in an hour. So, when people watch the program, they feel like they really learned something.

"I think the respect he has in the industry is demonstrated by the number of newspapers and magazines sourcing Wind Tunnel in their stories. It's a real testament to Dave and his abilities."

Q: The NASCAR season is about to get started again. What will SPEED's role be in Daytona?

Liberatore: "SPEED Channel will head to Daytona in January for NASCAR testing. We will be unveiling our new 53-foot stage truck and I think it's safe to say, anytime there are cars on the track during Speedweeks, SPEED Channel will be there. We will have more than 75 hours of live coverage, highlighted by live coverage of the first-ever night running of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona. The fans have gone 12 weeks without seeing their favorite drivers, so we expect they will be hungry for it."

In 2004, SPEED Channel is the exclusive U.S. cable home for many of the top motor sports series in the world. In addition, SPEED's weekly Auto Focus block of programming brings car enthusiast television to Prime Time Monday through Thursday. Now available in more the 64 million homes in North America, SPEED Channel is the fastest growing sports cable network in the country and the home to NASCAR TV..

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