Liberatore to Speed Away from Speed

For Jim Liberatore, the checkered flag is in view.

Citing philosophical differences with Fox Cable Networks Group about the program balance for Speed Channel, Liberatore will likely exit as the service’s president sometime in the next month or so.

Currently in his fourth year navigating Speed, Liberatore’s contract expires at the end of June.

Liberatore said Speed’s schedule is largely shaped by four programming silos: racing series; shoulder programming for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing; shows on customizing autos and motorcycles; and auto enthusiasm/lifestyle fare.

“We have solid gains in three of the areas and are growing in the fourth,” he said, noting that other networks -- including Discovery Channel, The History Channel and TLC -- have also scored in the latter segment.

He declined to identify the strategies he wanted Speed to pursue, saying, “It wasn’t a big battle. The questions involved were where to invest more in one kind of programming versus the other. I can see the issues and both sides of the argument make sense, but it’s best that I move on.”

When exactly that will be is undetermined, as Liberatore’s departure date is “open-ended at this point. I’ve agreed to stick around for a while.”

Liberatore relaunched the former Speedvision in 2002. He helped to push its subscriber base from 39 million to more than 63 million today and significantly ramped up demographic growth among males.

He also introduced NASCAR TV, a channel-within-a-channel concept focusing on the circuit, which has led to stronger ratings for its Craftsman Truck series and shows like NASCAR Nation than when they appeared on other more widely distributed outlets.

Financial success aside, Liberatore said his proudest accomplishment at Speed is the fact that it became “a full-fledged network” with video-on-demand, broadband and wireless initiatives that helped “Americans with their love affair with cars, whether racing or restoration.”

Liberatore -- who joined the service from his position as general manager of Sunshine Network (the regional sports network now called Sun Sports) -- said he had some other opportunities in the works, but he couldn’t disclose them.