Our Chat With STO’s Jim Liberatore

We got the call from SportsTime Ohio head Jim Liberatore this afternoon…unfortunately, on the road while nowhere near a notepad or keyboard, so much of this is out of our recollection of the conversation about five hours ago.

The biggest item – Liberatore tells OMW that the activation mess yesterday with DirecTV and STO “should be fixed” by tomorrow night’s Indians-Mariners game. At least, that’s what the DirecTV folks are telling him. Apparently, the need to activate the channel in the first place needed a couple of electronic “nudges” (our term) with DirecTV boxes. Liberatore says DirecTV feels confident that they’ve sent down the electronic “hits” needed to clear STO on boxes in the primary Cleveland market.

Liberatore tells us that despite the DirecTV problems (and despite information in Roger Brown’s sports media column in this morning’s PD), the red-hot Tribe still got good ratings over the weekend. After a 12.7 share for Friday’s WKYC/3 opener, the STO cable/satellite only games on Saturday and Sunday were scoring in the 8 share range, which was actually around – if not a little more than – the season average for FSN Ohio’s Indians games in 2005. But clearly, with the DirecTV homes which were missing for Saturday and Sunday, that number could have been bumped a bit higher.

The STO head took at least partial blame for the whole mess regarding DirecTV and the regions outside metro Cleveland/Akron/Canton/Columbus, areas that will still not receive the STO Indians games on DirecTV even after the satellite service fixes the problems that plagued local subscribers this weekend.

Liberatore said he “didn’t expect” the move by DirecTV to regionalize the coverage, and the veteran cable channel executive said he’d never heard of such a deal before. He told us the term sheet between SportsTime Ohio and DirecTV did not include the regional zone breakdown.

Could DirecTV subscribers outside the core Indians market nudge the service into carrying games they saw on FSN Ohio last year? Liberatore would only say that such a decision was something that was in DirecTV’s ability to make.

We get the idea that such a move would put DirecTV on the financial hook for the extra out-of-core-market viewers, but the numbers would probably be somewhat less significant than what they’re paying STO for the Cleveland/Akron/Canton and Columbus metro market eyeballs.

We wonder with some 2,000 local Tribe fans calling DirecTV both Saturday and Sunday, how many of them were not going to get the game anyway due to their location in Toledo, Lima, Erie PA or other locations not in the “zone 1/2” footprint? And we wonder if those statistics will eventually make its way to those making such decisions at the satellite service, and if they’ll some day tell STO “sign us up for them, too”.

Liberatore did confirm for us that those folks in the DirecTV zones who are NOT getting the STO package right now are basically out of luck with the service if they want to see Indians games, even if they’re willing to pay for the extra cost “Extra Innings” package. “Extra Innings” will not give them the STO Indians games either.

So, if you’re a Tribe fan in Toledo, Erie, Steubenville or Mansfield, you’d only see the games aired by national providers ESPN and FOX (over-air) on DirecTV. Paying for the “EI” package won’t bring you the Indians games you aren’t seeing on channel 657.

Oh, Liberatore also tells us they are aware of the occasional audio problems we’ve talked about here, including the infamous one-second dropout every minute or two on the HD coverage, and some lipsyncing problems…and he believes those have been fixed for Tuesday night’s game.

Anyway, it was nice talking to Mr. Liberatore, who’s clearly pro-active with getting in touch with the media, and even the new media like OMW.

OK, so we didn’t think at first that he would bother with Internet media outposts, even your very own Mighty Blog of Fun(tm). But after hearing him stay in contact with an Internet cow…er…Marc Steenbarger’s Moohead Radio, we figured we’re at least that high up on the media food chain, and that’s what prompted us to contact the STO president directly…

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