Lifestyle in the Fast Lane

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Speed Channel has mixed several automotive-lifestyle shows into its lineup in an effort to broaden its audience.

The new offerings are intended as a complement to the heavy slate of National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) fare that’s helped Speed rev up its primetime ratings.

In February, the network introduced a number of entertainment-oriented programs that appeal beyond the network’s affluent 25-54 male stock-car fan, according to Speed president Jim Liberatore.

Shows such as Sports Car Revolution, which highlights the hottest trend in the youth-oriented “tuner” market; Chop/Cut/Rebuild, chronicling the overhaul of five vehicles; and Tuner Transformation, a Trading Spaces-like reality series for the automotive aftermarket, have helped drive Speed to a 50% gain in primetime.

The network averaged a 0.3 compared in the first quarter, up from a 0.2 during the same period in 2003, according to ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

In replacing its repeats of weekend NASCAR races, Liberatore said the shows — which initially were scheduled during the day — provide fresh programming for NASCAR fans, while offering non-racing programming for the auto enthusiast.

The shows are also bringing a younger audience to the screen, according to network executives.

Key male 18-to-49 demos are up 30% in primetime.

“We saw the success that other networks were having with auto-enthusiast type of programming,” said Liberatore, referring to such successful shows as Discovery Channel’s American Chopper. “We really looked at broadening our reach and getting away from just the race fans, to appeal to all people who love looking, cleaning fixing, racing and buying cars.”

The network plans to roll out additional auto lifestyles shows in the summer and fall, including Street vs. Elite, pitting pro auto-racing drivers against legendary “street” racing teams, and I Want to Date a Race Car Driver, a reality series Liberatore hopes will bring more female viewers to the network.

Despite these lifestyle additions, Liberatore said Speed remains very committed to its NASCAR TV slate of original series, specials and live races.

Liberatore said the network’s Friday night lineup — which offers mostly previews and pre-race activities of the upcoming weekend’s NASCAR races — accounts for about 40% to 50% of the network’s viewing.

In addition, ratings for the network’s live NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series are up 58% over last year, according to Liberatore.

Earlier this year the network bowed NBS 24/7, an all-access NASCAR series; and Pit Bull, a NASCAR talk show similar to ESPN’s The Sports Reporters. Liberatore added that the network plans to launch a NASCAR-related game show later this year.

“With the NASCAR programming, we want to be behind the scenes and fun,” Liberatore said. “The rest of it is to broaden our core with the other enthusiasts’ programming.”

NASCAR vice president of broadcasting and new media Dick Glover said the organization is satisfied with Speed’s dedication to the sport.

“It’s important to have an outlet for the fans to turn to get solid NASCAR coverage,” he said. “The best environment for us is to have a network bring in lots of viewers that can be exposed to quality NASCAR programming, and we’re pleased Speed is improving the programming across its full schedule.”

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