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Guiding Outdoor Channel’s Great Adventure
As president for Outdoor Sportsman Group, Jim Liberatore is bringing a fresh approach to the outdoors market and specifically to traditional hunting and fishing television production companies looking to effectively “connect” with show fans. He is building on the past success of a growing conglomerate of companies with innovation and creativity. There are now over three hundred producers of television programming who are reaching an ever-expanding audience of channel subscribers, and with the best in outdoors adventure programming.
As President and CEO, Jim Liberatore is responsible for the overall strategic, operational and creative vision for Outdoor Sportsman Group – Networks, which are comprised of Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel and World Fishing Network. Under his leadership, Jim is solidifying the networks’ positions as the premier destinations for outdoor entertainment, while serving consumers, distributors and advertisers. With more than 25 years of industry expertise, he has proven track record of building and growing successful cable network brands.
Jim, thanks for being a part of the great success of the outdoors community by featuring the absolute best in television programming on Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel and World Fishing Network? What a wonderful niche audience of over 67,000,000 hunters, anglers ad target shooters, not to mention all the additional outdoors related shows presented on your networks! Let’s get started with the Q & A interview.
1 - How long have you served as the president and CEO of Outdoor Channel and its associated companies?
4 years. We started in Temecula, California for about a year and then moved the company to Denver.
2 - As the foremost leader in outdoors television programming through both Outdoors Channel and Sportsman Channel, what is the vision for Outdoor Sportsman Group in the short and long term, especially in the area of programming in reaching the next generation of sportsmen and women?
It has been said that “content is King,” but I think today with the unbound proliferation of outlets to distribute content, I would say “exclusive content is king.” That being true, we as a company are trying to aggregate, exclusively, all of the relevant content and participate in every distribution outlet available today covering traditional cable outlets, all digital outlets, print and even outdoor events. When we accomplish that, any viewer wanting to watch anything of importance in our space from an entertainment or educational standpoint, will need to come through us in one way or another. Also, to accomplish this goal, we are building partnerships that will allow us to find an audience that is outside the space now, and determine the most attractive ways to bring them in. For example, are you concerned about healthy food? The outdoor industry is for you. Are you concerned about self-defense? Outdoor family activities? Getting your kids off the couch and outside? Our industry has a solution for all of those issues.
3 – What is your career background and how has it prepared you for your new role with Outdoor Sportsman Group?
I have had the enormous blessing in my life to be the architect in building or rebuilding two networks before being handed that same responsibility with the three OSG networks. I have enjoyed beyond description, the challenge of assembling teams and creating a vision for these networks and then working to realize the vision.
4 – Tell us about the man behind the position of president and CEO, as well as your family?
The man behind the position is a person who has the critically important asset of self-awareness. I understand that unless I am alone, rarely am I the smartest person in the room. I am a man of average capabilities on my own, and for me to achieve success, I need two things. First, the ability to find, hire, incent and grow great talent. Secondly, and above all else, I need to turn my position and ambitions over to God, which I do almost every morning before work. I pray that God leads me and this company. I pray for my employees and I pray that we honor the commitment of our ownership group and the people who sign our checks. I pray that through this job, I glorify God. The same goes at home, I pray I glorify God by the way I run my household, by how I love my wife and by introducing my daughter to Christ. In both, I have only one hurdle I feel I need to clear, knowing and loving God in all I do. After that, I can know everything is as it should be.
5 – Your wife seems to have really jumped on board in support of your career shift into working together with hunting and fishing television production companies. Have the two of you developed any particular outdoor passions such as fly fishing, clay shooting, etc.?
Shooting. We both have our carry permits. Kim has been to Gunsight Academy twice, has participated in some three-gun shooting activities. We have built a shooting platform on some land we bought. We own five various firearms and love blowing stuff up. Kim has hunted with several of our producers including Chad Belding and as a result, she has filled our freezer with goose meat!
6 – How has the annual Golden Moose Awards held during the NSSF Shot Show in Las Vegas changed over the years since your involvement?
I think the profile has been raised enormously. Consider in the past three years we have had in the audience or on our stage Marcus Latrell, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, John Fogarty and our current President of the United States. This of course is in addition to all of the huge names within our industry.
7 – How and why did you invite a surprise guest appearance of then candidate Donald Trump to the 2016 award celebration? Tell us how that particular endorsement may have solidified Trump’s support of over 300 outdoors television producers and their fan base?
We invited other candidates to the show as well, but to his credit and why I think he is now president, President Trump understood what an appearance at the awards would mean for him. President Trump has an amazing grasp of the people. He did several things throughout the campaign that I would tell my wife, “well, he is done now,” yet his popularity grew. He “gets” America and that is why he showed up at the GMA’s.
8 – Share with our readers some insights into the growth over the years of the companies under your leadership and vision?
While at Fox, Speed Channel had the highest gross margin of the Fox national networks. Our team built SportsTime Ohio, the Ohio-based Regional Sports Network from the ground up. Recently, the network sold and I would argue, the revenues from that sale were used to propel the Indians into the World Series last year. The OSG networks are a work in progress and have enjoyed huge growth but I would suggest people sit back and watch what is going to happens to the network and the industry over the next few years. It is going to be incredible. Now, please refer back to an earlier comment. This success is not by my hand but by the work of some amazing employees who worked together to accomplish incredible goals. And those employee’s success I would argue is the result of the daily and intentional surrender of the direction of these various companies to God.
9 – It is well known among firearms industry leaders that record sales have taken place over the last eight years. What political ramifications did the previous White House administration have on outdoors television viewership and their advertisers?
They scared people, pure and simple. I believe that people felt that gun ownership and the second amendment were at risk. And now for a personal opinion, with a Clinton White House I believe we were one horrible tragedy away from losing some of our rights. I think certainly that AR’s and possibly hand guns would not have survived a Clinton presidency. I will also say we will never be out of the woods on this issue. When the day comes that the Democrats hold the house, senate and White House, we will lose at least some degree of our second amendment rights. That is my firm belief.
10 - What trends among the millennial generation do you anticipate for your viewership of outdoors television programming in the near and distant future?
The healthy nature of our space, both food and exercise, as well as the self-sufficiency aspects of our industry, will be attractive to millennials IF WE CAN EDUCATE THEM. I fear our industry may not be aware of the depth of the ignorance about hunting. I do not use the word ignorance in a derogatory way but a literal one. Some people for example, who are not necessarily anti-hunting, believe that hunting is a cause of endangering species - that hunters are blood thirsty. The good news is that even a 15- minute education can change attitudes of open-minded people. I know from personal experience it can be that easy, yet a broad education solution has not been found by the industry.
11 - Tell us about your personal life through the years, education, career track, hobbies, and heartfelt passions in life?
I went to college first to play baseball and when that did not work out, I transferred to and almost failed out of Miami of Ohio. My GPA was sub 2.0. (I was not joking when I said I am rarely the smartest guy in the room!). By the grace of God through my mom pushing me, I found the liberal arts school at Miami and enjoyed the interdisciplinary studies and graduated with a degree in philosophy. I got into selling air time for television stations, moved into representing regional sports networks selling their time. From there, I ran Madison Square Garden’s sales then off to building the networks I discussed earlier. The greatest career decision I ever made came as I was driving off Miami campus after graduation. I pulled over, sat in my car and prayed. I prayed that God would lead me on an amazing adventure. I prayed he would bless me with a career that was above all else - fun. I asked for enough money to live, but more than anything, I requested a career filled with excitement. I got back in my car, and from there, the excitement only grew year after year. He truly is an amazing God. Brings a tear to my eye as I write this.
12 – Are you a follower of Jesus Christ, and if so why and what were (are) the most profound circumstances impacting your Christian faith?
It is strange but as a child I remember turning to God regularly. I enjoyed sitting in church as opposed to being on the playground. Part of that I think was being one of seven kids in an incredibly crazy household. My parents had a 2-year old, a one year old and new born twins, four kids two or younger! I think I learned to love and seek out “alone time,” which I found was time to be with God. No great conversion story. My journey has led me off the path many, many times, which all represent the worst times of my life. I do not know why, but God has made it easy for me to follow Him. I have learned to not say “why me?” when things go bad, and also have learned not to say “why me?” when they go so amazingly right.
13 – Tell us about your new film project, the feature length movie, “The Harvest” and how your personal passions bring conservation management and the Christian faith together?
In talking to somebody about this project they mentioned that there are "man born" projects and then there are "spirit born" projects. This clearly has been a “spirit born” project. I say that because of how it came together and the clarity that had a complete novice like me write the script during a week of vacation time. A clarity that is only possible through the direction of Christ. I look forward to telling the full story to a lot of people, of Christ's work through the process of making this film.
The script came together through two concerns placed on my heart. The first issue started when Corey Knowlton and Melissa Bachman came under incredible fire for hunting. Corey was hunting a rogue, dangerous rhino, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservation. Around the same time, Melissa had shot a lion, I believe. Both Corey and Melissa experienced incredible public outcry including death threats and the litany of ignorance-based attacks.
We see this all too often. As a newby in the industry, I was very surprised at the lack of organized support for those in our hunting family. I made a lot of inquires including industry CEO's and found there was no such outward facing initiatives for those wrongly attacked. Consequently, our networks tried to initiate some education with shows like "Tuskers," explaining the truth about African elephant populations and the incredible things hunters do for those elephants, and "Safe Haven," which was an examination of the danger of “gun free zones.” Both were excellent documentaries, but in the end, only viewed by the "choir." No real change resulted. The movie is a great way to reach outside the choir and share the amazing truths about hunting. As I said before, give me an open mind and 10 minutes and I will make a convert! This movie will do that for millions of Americans.
The bigger prayer for my film is to ask people to examine the depth of their relationship with Christ. I fear many think their works, their philanthropy or "goodness" is the key to salvation. I am hoping those same millions of Americans will consider the state of their relationship with Christ and understand it is our relationship with Christ that is the key, not religion.
14 – What is the status of this innovative film project and how can outdoors industry leaders and conservation groups support this effort?
As of today, we do not have an investor, but we have everything else. For 16 months we had an investor which allowed us to have the project completely teed up including a budget, a few key actor contracts and just about everything else. Without getting into names, we also have very serious interest from two of the Christian Film industry’s leading companies which is an incredible development. As odd as this may sound, I am not too concerned about the investor as the script and business plan are incredibly powerful and unique and God will lead us to the right partner. This film is the opportunity for millions of Americans to hear for the first time, the incredible story of hunting and see the hunting culture celebrated. With each DVD/download of the movie, we are including an additional DVD which will explain the truth about hunting. I do not feel it too ambitious to say this could be the most important project for the hunting industry in a long, long time. Once we have the capital in place and begin shooting the film, I am certain that the entire industry would energetically support, promote and endorse this film. Once anyone reads the script, the support will be overwhelming.
15 – What aspects of the outdoors community have most impressed you in the film project causing you to focus the story plot on a family who hunts together as well as prays together?
If I had to pick one, and it is hard, it would be the generational aspect and the family tie that I love. I mean days alone in the wilderness just parent and child! That is powerful. How much better off would we be as a nation if every parent spent time with their kids each year alone in nature?
16 – It has been rumored that you might serve as the keynote speaker for both of CSF, International’s Sportsmen’s Prayer Breakfast events for 2018, held in conjunction with the Shot Show and Dallas Safari Club. Can you give us a preview of your presentation?
It is a bit weird for me as I am not being overly humble when I say that the fact anyone would want to hear me speak seems a stretch with one caveat: If I were to tell the story of how Jesus Christ has taken a nearly failed college student and gave him the life He has given me! That is one story I would love to tell anyone. The “story within the story” of the film project is interesting and clearly demonstrates the power of Christ, so that may be the topic.
17 – On a personal note, would you share with our readers, who has most influenced you in your role as an outdoors television network professional, and secondly, as a Christian sportsman?
I would say that the answer is the same, Jesus Christ through Oswald Chambers. I find that the best management book in the world is the Bible as it addresses every issue that comes up. Oswald Chambers has had an incredible influence on me by his straight forward, butt-kicking, Christ-centric style.
18 - What are some of your favorite books, movies and hobbies and why?
I hate to sound like a monk but I am not a voracious reader, but when I am going to read, I read kingdom focused books, and even then, I reread most of my favorites. Those books broken down to pulp include: True Spirituality, Knowledge of the Holy, anything by CS Lewis and I am on my third version of My Utmost for His Highest as the binding breaks on my old version!
19 – Which book of the New Testament and what verses continue to influence and characterize your Christian faith and why?
It is impossible to pick one book but Romans pops into my head. Ephesians 2:10 is a favorite of mine because in one small sentence we learn that we are created by and in God, we are His workmanship. We are to have fellowship with Christ and we are to fulfill the plans God has for us… Plans he set in motion before we were born! How can I ever be anxious for anything if I am created by a loving God and striving to live the life the Creator of the universe planned for me before I was even born, and therefore with His support? Great stuff.
20 – Could you close out our time together for our readers with a short prayer, not only for them but for our nation and the outdoors community in general?
Lord God, we thank you for your amazing creation that you offer us as a place we can recreate, relax, pursue our passions and most of all, find you. I pray that every outdoorsman and woman will seek you and find you while enjoying your amazing handiwork. I also pray for those who do not know you, that as they see the beauty that surrounds us, that they too will be drawn to the truth that there is a a loving creator of this beauty, and come to know you through it.
I pray that our appreciation for you increases each year, each month and each day as you speak to us through the majestic outdoors.
President & CEO of Outdoor Sportsman Group
"The Heavens declare the glory of God; The skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They had no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4
It has been very insightful to hear your responses to some probing questions about your personal as well as professional life. Thank you for opening up your heart to our readers, many I am sure who are intrigued with your straight forward responses and perspectives on the outdoors media industry. It has been fascinating to learn how a professional within the industry integrates his Christian faith with outdoors passion. Thanks again for allowing us to come into the privacy of your personal life and your transparency in our interview.