Monday, October 1, 2007

Answering Your Questions About Sports TV Distribution

Since the long ABC and ESPN2 presentation of the NEXTEL Cup race from Kansas, there have been many emails asking the same fundamental questions about TV. Let me try to address some of them in the easiest terms to understand.

ABC is a broadcast television network. They transmit several "satellite feeds" to their local station affiliates. These stations then "downlink" or receive the feed and mix in their local commercials and promos. This is how they insert the ads for your local car dealers and promo the eleven o'clock news.

The station then sends this "program feed" to their big transmission tower, which broadcasts the signal over the air. This is commonly called "free TV." Anyone with a TV can see this signal without having to pay for cable TV or a satellite dish.

There are as many as four feeds from ABC sending programs to their local stations. This is because of the different time zones in the US. While the ABC national news might be on at 6:30 PM in the East, it would only be 3:30PM in California. So, they use the different time zone feeds to send different shows out across the nation. This way, the programs can be seen nationwide at the same times in each time zone. It has been this way for a very long time.

A cable sports network like ESPN or ESPN2 is very different. They send one signal out to the entire nation. If two teams are playing football at noon in the East, the same game is being seen at 9AM in California. When SportsCenter is on at 7PM in the East, it is on at 4PM in California.

The ESPN Network signals are "downlinked" directly by cable systems. There are no TV stations in this mix. The cable systems insert local ads automatically, which sometimes results in the sloppy appearance of the home town ads in your area. Its just the nature of the beast.

When ABC or another broadcast network televises a live sporting event, they plan a "window" of time for that program. This window includes the potential over-run of the event due to things like overtime in the NBA or extra innings in a Major League Baseball game. Some sports pose a greater challenge than others, with NASCAR leading the pack.

A NASCAR race on a broadcast network can be trouble. We have seen the Fox Broadcast Network wait many hours until an afternoon race resumed under the lights late at night. Fox made this commitment because they have a problem. While they have many regional sports networks, they have no national cable sports network. They have nowhere to go.

Only the combination of ABC and ESPN can boast a broadcast and cable connection that can do exactly what ESPN2 did for the Kansas race on Sunday. The cable network took over because the broadcast network was possibly going to run beyond the time allotted for sports, and was going to cut-into their East Coast primetime line-up.

Luckily, the Kansas track did not have lights for night racing. NASCAR was going to be forced to shut the racing down at sunset, and that certainly was a break for the TV groups involved. Not only did it allow ESPN2 a general understanding of when the race would be called, it also allowed SPEED to do its post-race Victory Lane program.

If there had been lights at this track, the race would have been run for the full length scheduled. That would have created a new scenario that all the TV types would have rather avoided. The good news is that the ESPN group had the facilities and manpower to handle a big network switch of this nature.

So, the race switched from a broadcast network to a cable network, which guaranteed viewers an uninterrupted telecast until the end. I hope this helped with a general overview of TV distribution, and maybe answered some fundamental questions that NASCAR fans had about Sunday. Thanks again for writing in to The Daly Planet.

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Anonymous said...

John--you state that there's only 1 feed, but can you 'splain why only half the country heard Smoke's "F" word? I'm in the central zone and it's on my recording of practice, yet my buddies on the west coast say it was bleeped for them? So if they use only 1 feed do they delay the feed on the west coast?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Unless the program was repeated and they taped the re-air later, it was the same nationwide. The Tony thing was over-blown, and even NASCAR could not hear it enough to determine that anything needed to be done. The people who really want this guy to generate controvery are ESPN.

NASCAR actually had them play the tape over and over...nothing. This is more about ESPN than Mr. Stewart.

SophiaZ123 said...

This would explain why little was made about this alleged F bomb until somebody posted they saw it on ESPN. I looked at many sites soon after and found NOTHING..then posted about it at SPEED TV..only then did I hear it was so noisy on the mic that to hear Tony say the word, you had to replay the part SEVERAL TIMES.

Wonder if NNow will whip this up tonight?

I can remember over the years when football players or boxing matches were mic with extra sound, hearing cuss words over the air..and a couple times the F bomb and it was IGNORED....because you barely heard it....Course this was before the FCC made their rules and then reversed them.

But I TELL YOU WHAT, ESPN is not endearing themselves to TS with this nonsense.

stricklinfan82 said...

I watched it on my DVR and could barely make out what Tony said. When Kyle Petty dropped his F-bomb on TNT in Sonoma I heard it clearly watching it live but when I watched it on my DVR later that part got edited out, so maybe that's what happened it this case, I'm not sure.

Anonymous said...

JD, you said FOX does not have a national sports network. SPEED and FOX are both owned by NEWSCORP. Wouldn't that make SPEED an option for the broadcast?

Tripp said...

Fox also owns FX and the Fox Movie Channel and Fox News. It's obvious that they can't go to FMC or Fox News, but what's wrong with Speed or FX?

That said, anything that will keep races on the Fox broadcast network is a good thing, as long as the local affiliate doesn't take over for their broadcast of candlepin bowling.

Anonymous said...

Tripp said...
but what's wrong with Speed or FX?
October 1, 2007 4:43 PM

I think SPEED would be ok, but FX is no longer part of NASCAR television contract so live racing cannot be shown on FX channel this year.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Great questions. SPEED is certainly one option for Fox, but SPEED has its own fulltime agenda with programming that is contractually obligated to air.

ESPN Classic is a true "overflow" channel, that only shows older shows already aired on the other networks and has no live or original programming.

Fox decided many years ago to corner the regional sports network market and leave the national cable sports for ESPN. Thanks.

Erik said...

ESPN Classic does occasional air its own live events, mainly college football, though, they are few and far between. The next scheduled potential conflict will come on Nov 17th when the Busch Series wraps up is season at Homestead. There is another game before that, but it will occur on a Busch off week.

Hopefully there isn't an event prior to the race that would force another bump to ESPN 360.

Catherine said...

I've gone through several times in my life where I didn't have cable, there are hundreds of thousands and probably millions of folks that don't have ESPN. For them this was heidi game-esque. Imagine seeing Tony Stewart in the lead with Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch a lap down.
When you get to the paper this morning (no updates on ABC(not important)) You learn that there was basically an entirely new race run and Tony Crashed out spectacularly while Gordon went on to a top 5. Add the insane controversy about the finish and That person would really feel bad about the race. They had already sat through one and a half rain delays! It's not a nice way to treat fans.
It's just another example of ABC/ESPN not respecting the race.

Does anyone have god ideas for an anti=ESPN sign to take to Raceday at Atlanta and Miami? In Miami, Brian France usually is on Raceday. Not that he seems to care anymore.

Anonymous said...

If you don't have cable, why cant you listen to MRN? That is what I did since I was away from a cable TV at the time of the race.

Erik said...

If it wasn't for ABC stepping up to the plate, NASCAR would have been left high and dry for any free, over the air broadcasts during the fall. CBS and Fox are very happy with their NFL contracts, and NBC spent a bunch on the the Sunday night NFL game. They clearly didn't want anything that could remotely interfere with football.

That only leaves ABC out of the major networks that has time to fill on Sunday afternoons. People should be thankful they are seeing any racing on a terrestrial broadcast.

Moving a race over for rain delays isn't ABC just picking on NASCAR. They do it to the IRL as well. Running over the window for several hours is just something that ABC is willing to do, and I can't blame them. They have many more people watching their Sunday night TV lineup.

Get used to it. Nothing will be changing for quite some time. And as TV ratings decline, NASCAR got themselves quite a deal locking in the price at a peak.

Anonymous said...

No, I think it shows at the same time (so if it's 10 on the east coast its 7 on the west coast). hmmmm....strange

But I definitely agree that it was blown out of proportion and not just because it's my guy.

stricklinfan2--how would it get edited on a DVR? I still have it on my DVR and I can still hear it. I guess I'm confused.

William said...

There is no over the air MRN signal where I live. Well if I drive to the far side of town and park my truck just right.... Even then it's full of static.

Anonymous said...

William, the Radio Colorado Network streams MRN on the internet.

Anonymous said...

as it happens, my power went out on Sunday. MRN usually does a better job than TV, but I have a portable TV that you cannot connect to cable, so I was able to watch & grateful the race was on ABC. By the time they had to move it, the power was back on and I followed it to ESPN2. I have no issue with them moving things around provided they tell us where it's going, and run scrollers so you know if you turn over late or early. People have to be realistic about how rain can affect programming; it happens in all sports (even football on occasion.) They're never going to please everyone.

I don't like that Fox has no flexibility. The week of that rain delayed race (Rockingham?) in 2001, our local FOX station aired Ricki Lake, etc, instead, because FOX refused to allow local stations to air their own broadcast station *logo* in the corner of the screen. So I couldn't watch because of a dang logo dispute (this is what the local station told me in an e-mail). That was a absurd (IMO) local decision, but driven by a ridiculous Fox policy. I wonder if that is still the case. Apparently it was quite important to our local station, which I find to be nuts--as if we're too stupid to know what station we're on.

William said...

I'm just pointing out that Catherine has a good point about some people couldn't watch the whole race and that is a darn shame. I have both cable, the internet and Sirius. I won't miss a race I'm trying to watch. However I'm sure there were many fans that didn't get to see the last 50 odd laps of that race.
I feel bad for them.

GinaV24 said...

I know one suggestion that John has had is to go to ESPN Classic, but that is not widely offered in all areas. Comcast has it, but not in my area, so anything that is broadcast on that channel wouldn't be accessible to a lot of us who pay for cable.

Erik said...

ABC's Desperate Housewives drew 19 million viewers. Extreme Makeover had 14 mllion viewers. The Cup race had about 4.5 million viewers. Its a shame ABC had to move it, but I can't blame an ABC exec giving preference to their entertainment division and making that decision.

Compared to cable, the available broadcast outlets on broadcast TV are extremely limited.

Once when everyone will be forced to get a digital TV tuner, there will be more options available for broadcast TV. Each station will also have subchannels at their disposal as well. Currently, the TV stations usually just show a weather radar.

In these sorts of instances, they can use this subchannel as a means of continuing to show the race over a broadcast channel that everyone can get. The drawback would be its only in SD, but that would be better than nothing.

This can complement any decision as well to make a move to simulcast the race over on ESPN2 so it can be shown in HD as well.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
I wonder if that is still the case. Apparently it was quite important to our local station, which I find to be nuts--as if we're too stupid to know what station we're on.

October 2, 2007 11:15 AM

That is not the case anymore. Many local FOX stations put their logo on the screen.