Saturday, July 28, 2007
Rain Puts ESPN And SPEED Head-To-Head On Saturday
The fall-out of the weather problems at Indy was never more obvious then late Saturday morning and early Saturday afternoon. As SPEED followed its regular schedule of shows from the SPEED stage, ESPN scrambled its programming line-up to deal with changes in the NEXTEL Cup practice schedule.
The result was exactly the thing that ESPN had been trying to avoid at all costs. They were now live on-the-air simultaneously with SPEED in a head-to-head competition for viewers. It certainly did make things interesting.
As The Daly Planet wrote in a Thursday column, ESPN has found itself basically surrounded by SPEED at Indy. Safely inside the racetrack, ESPN has avoided even acknowledging that there is another network present at the track. Meanwhile, SPEED has a comfortable set-up across the street where viewers can watch SPEED's weekend line-up of live programming.
Perhaps, the best moments of Saturday came while ESPN was live on-the-air with NEXTEL Cup practice, and SPEED was on-the-air with NASCAR Live. While Suzy Kolber led the team on the ESPN side, Steve Byrnes led SPEED's NASCAR Live effort.
Viewers were put in the unusual position of watching two NASCAR TV partners try to cover the exact same practice session. While ESPN has the "rights" to the practice, SPEED was often showing on-track activity as well during their show. Certainly, the thrust of the ESPN coverage was the on the track, while SPEED concentrated on explaining what teams were doing what, and interviewing drivers and crew chiefs.
The most intense part of this unexpected head-to-head contest pitted SPEED's Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond against ESPN's Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree. There is never a time where two TV networks are covering the same NEXTEL Cup race live, so this practice session coverage was about as close as things will ever come.
Both teams of analysts delivered good information, with the advantage going to ESPN who could use the live on-track coverage, their own pit reporters, and Tim Brewer in the new "tech center" to fully integrate all the on-going stories. Hammond and McReynolds were contained on a set outside the track, basically using their pit reporters and watching the computer update the practice laps.
We knew that ESPN's arrival in the NASCAR community was going to result in some flexible scheduling and on-air changes, but it certainly was amazing that SPEED was able to broadcast live while ESPN was simultaneously on-the-air with NEXTEL Cup practice. Once ESPN discovers that someone else was broadcasting quality coverage of exactly the same activity that ESPN is paying millions to have as "exclusive," it should be interesting to see how these types of changes play-out in the future.
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