Monday, October 15, 2007
ABC Affiliates Pre-Empt NASCAR Coverage
This is the first season of the ESPN production crew bringing the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series to the ABC broadcast affiliates. These local stations comprise the system of TV delivery that NASCAR mandated for the "Chase For The Championship." These races must be on broadcast TV nationwide. At least, that was the idea.
Saturday night, the NEXTEL Cup broadcast from Lowe's Motor Speedway began at 7PM with a thirty minute edition of NASCAR Countdown, the pre-race show. This is not a distinctly separate program, but basically a thirty minute lead-in to the event where interviews and features are added from the Infield Studio by Suzy Kolber and her team. Brent Musburger was on-hand to "host" the festivities.
This race has been on the 2007 NASCAR schedule since it was released in late 2006. The ABC Sports schedule had been out for months. The ESPN on ABC production team had a beautiful night in the greater Charlotte area with absolutely no rain in sight.
Musburger's familiar refrain of "you are looking live" came across right on time as the flashy opening of the program recapped The NEXTEL Chase for the Championship to this point. It was going to be a big night in NASCAR, and a big night for ABC.
Kolber welcomed ESPN's analyst Rusty Wallace and commentator Brad Daugherty to the Infield Studio. After race highlights from Talladega, both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were interviewed live. Over the next thirty minutes the top drivers talked about their cars, the analysts talked about the race, and even Bank of America President appeared to back-up their multi-million dollar commitment to this event.
But, things were very different for one key area of the nation. Broadcast TV stations are talked about by their DMA's. That stands for Designated Market Area, and represents their ranking in the country among the one hundred and fifty markets.
Los Angeles is number two. Slightly behind New York, the LA market is key for both advertisers and TV ratings. With slightly over 5.6 million households, this area is a heavy hitter for both the local TV stations and the broadcast TV networks.
Saturday night, as the ESPN on ABC gang talked about the upcoming race and reviewed the happenings at Talladega, the Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC pre-empted this telecast. It was time for Eyewitness News. Trapped between a college football game and a NASCAR race, the Program Director decided to drop Los Angeles out of the thirty minute NASCAR pre-race show and do the news.
The only thing was, this executive apparently did not tell ESPN or ABC or anyone else who really mattered. When the full newscast was over, KABC ran several minutes of commercials, and then just "slammed" into the live network telecast. They actually joined it right as the command to start engines was given.
Normally, when a local station is joining an event in-progress, there is a coordinated effort by the network to provide what is called a "scene set." This is when the announcer says "for those of you just joining us in Los Angeles, welcome to Lowe's Motor Speedway for a great night of NASCAR racing." This provides the station a transition into the network telecast without an awkward moment for the viewers.
The fact that there was no such cooperation between KABC and the ESPN on ABC crew producing the NASCAR race pretty much proves they did not know Los Angeles was gone for the entire show. As the second biggest TV market in the nation, you would think that the ESPN on ABC crew would want to make sure those folks were welcomed in to the telecast. Instead, LA viewers got the command to start engines in mid-sentence right out of a commercial.
This is not the sort of smooth ABC network telecast that ESPN wanted when they began the process of mending the fences between the cable TV production crews and the hardcore union crews of the ABC television network. Bad blood has existed between these two groups for over twenty years. If the union boys knew that LA was "dark," it seemed that no one told the "cable guys" producing the telecast at the track.
Email to The Daly Planet reports that the ABC affiliate in Oklahoma City, OK also decided that news would be better than the pre-race show, and that in San Antonio, TX the local station actually inserted a five minute news break during the red flag period of the race. The bottom line is, who knows what other stations in the ABC network went their own way during the NASCAR event?
The ultimate irony is that the LA station, KABC, is wholly owned by the ABC corporation, and refers to itself as "the West Coast flagship of the ABC Network." Well, for the NASCAR fans who deserved a full telecast during the height of the championship chase, this KABC decision seems to be based on dollars and not content. Local news is the money-maker for this station, and to lose a thirty minute broadcast would mean a little less to the station's bottom line.
NASCAR is getting a rude awakening to the reality of the ABC broadcast network after being chased off the air after Talladega, doing only two short post-race interviews after Charlotte, and now discovering that the second biggest market in the nation decided to dump the entire pre-race show for Eyewitness News. It kind of makes you wonder what they would have done during a classic LA freeway police chase?
Update: A reader writes in to inform us to add WPLG, the Miami, FL ABC affiliate to the list of stations that pre-empted NASCAR Countdown for local news. He also says this station did the same thing for the Richmond night race.
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