Saturday, April 7, 2007

Special Report: NASCAR TV In Crisis


A while back, The Daly Planet wrote about the the way in which TV stations, regional sports networks, and cable TV networks were treated by the NASCAR's "gate-keeper" of video, called NASCAR Images. This company, located in Charlotte, NC, is the arm of NASCAR that enforces the tight restrictions placed on the TV and media here in the US. It is no coincidence that NASCAR Images also produces television shows for distribution to the very same TV outlets.

Prior to the existence of NASCAR Images, there were many regional TV shows that promoted the sport of NASCAR around the nation. These were usually produced by "local guys." They focused on drivers from the area and used footage taped directly off-the-air to show race highlights and driver interviews. Needless to say, no one got rich off these shows. However, they gave NASCAR its character, regional flair, and had a loyal fan following.

When NASCAR gathered the television rights to its races years ago, it also decided to buy the old Sunbelt Video in Charlotte and create NASCAR Images. Once established, NASCAR Images and its corporate partner, NASCAR Digital Images, released the new guidelines that all TV and media outlets must obey when using NASCAR footage. These restrictive guidelines immediately priced the existing TV shows out of business. Just like that, NASCAR wiped the local, regional, and national TV racing shows off the face of the planet. They have never returned.

Today, years later, these restrictive guidelines still prohibit TV networks from attempting to produce NASCAR-related shows. NASCAR Images prices the footage of the racing, and the drivers, at a premium. Even the rights to shoot video footage during a race at the racetrack itself are controlled by NASCAR Images. If that is the way NASCAR believes it should work, that's fine. But, something has thrown a wrench into their plans, and that my friends, is the internet.

Right now, there is only one daily NASCAR show on only one TV network in the entire US. It airs at 6:30 PM Eastern time on ESPN2. Fans can either watch it, tape it, or miss it. This one show, produced solely by ESPN, is the daily face of NASCAR on TV. In the meantime, there are currently 13,200 videos available right now on YouTube.com with the NASCAR tag. They include the final laps and post-race interviews of the 2007 Daytona 500 lifted directly from NASCAR on Fox. Purchased from NASCAR Images, this same footage would force you to sell your car to pay the bill. And, YouTube.com is just one of many sites with NASCAR video.

Some fans turn to NASCAR.com for video content. They are surprised to learn it is a private company run by Turner Interactive in Atlanta, GA. Its not really NASCAR, but another licensed product that is a source of revenue for NASCAR. NASCAR.com currently features a pretty young lady who hosts a new video each day, and they have a small archive of video content. This is the official NASCAR website...can you believe it? A licensed, for-profit, third-party "hosted" business located in Georgia.

Now, let's take a stroll through the real home of NASCAR TV. Simply by using the Google search engine on the blog function, any user can find a wide selection of NASCAR video of any type available for free. Some sites, like NASCARblog.org, feature a huge amount of video that would easily cost TV stations and networks hundreds of thousands of dollars just to use...once. Currently, there are 853 videos of NASCAR action on this one amateur website alone. Can you see the point I am trying to make? While NASCAR vigorously guards the video footage in the "vault" in Charlotte, thousands of fans are simply editing and posting their own NASCAR TV shows each and every day all over the internet. Does this make any sense?

Even at the smaller sites like nascarfans.wetpaint.com the "video of the week" is the final two laps of Cup at Bristol. It is complete with the audio portion of the NASCAR on Fox commentary. Fox paid millions for the exclusive rights to this race, and NASCAR Images owns the rights to this footage twenty-four hours after the event is over. If a TV station, cable network, or broadcast network even approached NASCAR Images about purchasing this footage for use, they would have to lead with their checkbook. This is the NASCAR way.

So, here we are in April of 2007. We have one NASCAR daily show on the air for thirty minutes a day...not in primetime. We have no weekly racing shows. No magazine shows on cable networks each week. Not one live fan call-in show dedicated to NASCAR on TV nationwide. SPEED has Inside NEXTEL Cup, and some weekend support programs like RaceDay and Victory Lane, two of our favorites. But, that is not the point of this column.

The struggle right now is between the conventional media, television, and the new media, the internet. As I wrote in my last column, it appears that NASCAR Images still has "dial-up." NASCAR needs to loosen the reigns on cable and network television in the US, or face a continuing migration of NASCAR fans onto the internet. Pretty soon, the only need for TV networks will be for the races themselves. With DirecTV's "Hot Pass" and the other pay-per-view in-car packages, that network audience has already eroded significantly.

How many of you listen to the radio broadcast of the race on your computer while you watch the video from the TV networks? If the video of the race was online, would you need to turn-on your TV at all on Sundays? OK, I agree that the Jimmy Spencer pre-race hair check is mandatory. But, other than that? So, many of you are already actively involved in the migration to on-line NASCAR TV.

Remember SpeedWeek, This Week in NASCAR with Eli Gold, Raceline, Prime Time Motorsports, and the other mid-week NASCAR shows? Remember when SPEED used to replay the Cup race from Sunday during the week in a shorter version? Were you a fan of NBS 24/7 or Totally NASCAR? All this TV content has gone missing because of the inability of NASCAR Images to define its role.

Meanwhile, the 13,200 videos on YouTube.com just sit there, calling your name.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

You make a terrific point, but it's all becoming moot anyway. NASCAR racing today, with the Chase, and especially the COT, isn't worth a damn. Fans are turning away because of high ticket prices and too many commercials, but that's just icing. The 'product' is ruined.

Anonymous said...

The greed of Nascar (Brian France) has been a significant factor in the decline of ratings and attendance. Nascar has acquired the rights to everything associated with Nascar...including the die cast business, which I read was also down significantly last year. everyone understands that a business must make money to survive...but when it comes at the expense of the core product and those who have spent years supporting it, you will inevitably alienate those you depend on for those profits.

Anonymous said...

I went to my first Daytona 500 in 1978. At the time I felt lucky to be able to go even though auto racing in general, and NASCAR in particluar, got little or no national coverage. Now if I want to continue going to Daytona, or any other NASCAR race, I have to buy a multi-day package of tickets. For a while NASCAR was the "sport de-jour." That status started eroding about three years ago. Long live local dirt track racing.

Anonymous said...

I was watching commercials and and a stock car race broke out. Has anyone heard of picture in picture. Every other sport takes time outs for commercials so nothing is missed. Races keep going. Please use PIP during commercials. I have been a race fan for 45 years and I am losing interest. I cannot sit indoors on a beautiful day for Nascar anymore.

Anonymous said...

I still get frustrated when I think about how Nascar killed RPM2Nite. Nascar had just moved to Fox/NBC because they wanted to expand their exposure. Yet, they refused to let RPM2Nite use any video. I knew at that moment that Nascar was going to start downhill within a few years. We want exposure, but we are not going to let a popular daily racing show use our footage? Bonehead thinking. I know they were trying to help their new broadcast partners, but these are the people who gave use Nascar Nation. Every time I watch a Nascar race, I become a bigger IRL fan.

Steadicam Clay said...

I have been so frustrated by the NASCAR TV/Video/Images/Radio situation for so long that I barely know where to begin...

NASCAR on TV: The now ancient history multi-billion dollar "new" TV deal where NASCAR was going to air all of the races on network television. By choice, I don't see any need to pay for commercial TV, or the need to have access to 500 channels... the three networks and PBS is more then enough television for me... But my excitement over the prospect of getting to watch the races without having to leave home. Perhaps it wasn't entirely NASCAR's fault, but look at what the network's did. They moved many of the races deemed unfit (or whatever) for broadcast to their "sister" cable stations. So maybe I'm the only NASCAR fanatic left on Earth that doesn't buy into the cable or satellite thing, but what do they expect me to do about it... suscribe to cable? Ok, so I'm going to pay what... forty plus dollars a month to watch an hours worth of billboards on parade sandwiched in-between two and a half hours of advertising? Ok, so I exaggerate the racing vs advertising time on the screen thing, but exaggeration is all I've got left, and the deep sense that I couldn't spend money more un-wisely.

NASCAR on Radio: I understand that I can get all the NASCAR I could ever eat by paying for satellite radio. Are you kidding me? Pay for radio! In my opinion, the concept is absurd and downright un-American. "December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy... Brought to you by Sirius Satellite Radio!" But, guess what, just finding and/or tuning in a NASCAR race is a lot of work and often more trouble then it's worth. First you have to know if the race is on the MRN or PRN network (which really isn't that difficult to figure out as long as you know the name of the company which owns the particular race track where the race is being held that week, or you know the name of the owner of the company that owns the race track where the race is being held that week). Then, you'll have to know if it's AM or FM. If it's AM, you're pretty much out of luck. The quality of AM radio has gotten so poor, I suppose due to high tension electric lines, solar flares, and my wife's vacuum cleaner, there is so much noise and clatter, cross talk and static, that it's unbearable. If it's FM the quality is better, but my experience has taught me that you have to know several things first before you can luck into finding the race. Knowing the number on the dial, as in 105.3, might help a little, but it seems to me that that number changes constantly, or at least season to season. And, as silly as it may sound, you also have to know that a pre-race show or race is on, as in, "I know for a fact that there is a race on right now." I don't try tuning in an hour or even half hour early unless I'm absolutely certain what time the pre-race show started ("Hey, was that EST or CST?") Otherwise, I find myself endlessly dialing up and down, up and down, one station at a time, listening for some clue as to its whereabouts. As for clues... if I hear an AD for an auto-parts store it's worth a thirty second pause. If the AD for auto-parts is followed by the voice of Dale, Jr., talking about pants, that's worth another thirty seconds. If the AD about pants is followed by the voice of Richard Petty talking about snorting powdered aspirin up his nose... By God... that's it! I've found it! "Don't touch anything and back off immediately!"

NASCAR Images: Last season I decided that I had had enough with the flippant TV and radio situation, so I went to iTunes and purchased the "NASCAR Images" season long encapsulated race reviews/highlights. I would have preferred, and paid for, the entire race, but the price wasn't that bad, and it meant that I could watch at my leisure. Things were going along fine, each week a few days after the race, iTunes would automatically download the newest episode, and life was good. Then, about half-way through the season, suddenly and without notice or explanation, they changed the video format from low-resolution 4:3 TV aspect ratio to high-res 16x9 widescreen format. My poor old 500 MHZ Macintosh Cube refused to play them anymore, and became totally obsolete in the span of one day. This meant that the only way I was going to get to see the race re-caps, was if I spent a few hundred dollars to upgrade the CPU on my computer to something like 1.2 gigahertz. Ok, I know that someday I will have to upgrade my computer, but I don't appreciate being forced to do so. I went to the iTunes web site, not so much as to complain but to see if I could get low resolution versions. As far as I could tell, iTunes has no support for such a thing, so I googled NASCAR Images. At the time, NASCAR Images didn't even have a web site. All they had was one of those one page, "NASCAR Images Coming Soon" with no links to anything at all. Several weeks later I went back to the website, where it was, in fact, "now open". But, there was no information what-so-ever or links for Contact Information or Support for any of their products. Finally, I just gave up. I don't even think I ever downloaded the rest of the season.

On the other hand, the TV deal for this season is actually pretty sweet. Dover will be on free TV (when was the last time, if ever, that Dover got the chance to be on free TV) and I, for one, simply can't wait!

RossmoorBob said...

My frustration with NASCAR race coverage is the total ignoring of cars outside the top ten unless they are in a wreck or in a battle with one of the "names." They are a couple of cars running this year and I couldn't even tell you what color they are based on tv coverage. With a 1/2 or more pre-race show, each qualifing car should at least be mentioned and shown.

Anonymous said...

I can remember a day when you couldn't get tickets to certain NASCAR events, today you can virtually walk up on race day at most tracks and purchase. Texas cost me 115.00 each the first two years the race was held(today same tickets are 135.00), I've never been back. I did however discover how much more fun I had and how much less tickets were to an IRL race at Texas. I went the last two years the season finale was located there and had a blast. Driver introductions were conducted in the stands, fans were invited on the track after the race to meet the race winner, and surprisingly we got out of the track in under 30 minutes. They had about 50-60k people there, pretty good if you ask me, more than football games. NHRA drag racing is the same way. Drivers are accessible and friendly, every ticket is a pit pass, and it comes with yet again a reasonable ticket price, IRL 45.00, NHRA three day, 80.00, Nascar 135.00. hmmm. Not only are they squeezing the news shows out via price, they are doing the same thing with the fans. Last year I was losing interest in the sport after 20 years of watching it on tv, today I opt to spend my weekends watching CART, IRL, and NHRA....

Anonymous said...

It seems that every year anymore, I become more.....choose your word ......disgusted, disappointed, disenfranchised with the coverage of Nascar on TV.

I am extremely unhappy this year with ESPN's coverage of the races. I don't care for their broadcasters, their coverage stinks, and I'm more than tired of the endless commercials!

I dearly miss the weekly programs that Speed TV used to have!

It's really sad to see the way that Nascar is heading. They are only going to continue to lose fans, both at the tracks and on TV if drastic changes aren't made soon. They're on a downhill trend and I don't see it changing in the foreseeable future.

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