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.