Sunday, October 21, 2007
Early "RaceDay" Running On Empty For SPEED
It certainly has been one of the hottest topics for fans of the outstanding NASCAR coverage delivered every race weekend on SPEED. On one of the key weekends of the NASCAR season, SPEED chose to move their Sunday morning program called RaceDay.
This two hour live program is a mix of news, conversation, and features. It has struck a chord with fans, and this season has been scheduled in a position to overlap the ESPN/ABC pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown.
While SPEED has undergone many changes over the last several years, they find themselves in the position of continuing to host live Formula-1 coverage. Voiced-over in SPEED's network headquarters in Charlotte, NC, this series has a cult following in the US that is dedicated to the point of fanatical.
SPEED has clung to this base of fans, and often appears to cater to them more than any other fanbase on the SPEEDtv.com website. Prior to SPEED investing in the multiple at-track programs on the NASCAR circuit, it was the open-wheel and Rally coverage that kept the network on the TV map.
Sunday morning, SPEED faced a choice that ESPN had also faced many times during their first decade of growth. Two high-profile and successful programs were locked in a Mexican stand-off. Both wanted to be on the air at 11:30AM on Sunday morning.
Formula-1 had the promise of a season-ending championship fight. The drivers had been battling all season long on a wide variety of circuits and in very diverse weather conditions. It was going to be a great live event from Brazil.
RaceDay has come into its own this season, and has been a tightly-knit crew of TV personalities who have momentum on their side. The failure of the ESPN on ABC crew to present a viable pre-race show has played into the hands of SPEED who took a big chance when scheduling RaceDay to directly compete with NASCAR Countdown.
So, SPEED faced a tough decision anyway you cut it. This was a classic case of a TV program vs. a TV event. The program was RaceDay, which has no actual "start time" associated with it, where the F-1 race certainly has a scheduled race start.
Moving RaceDay later was not an option, as the NASCAR race would be underway. Tape delaying the F-1 coverage until 1:30PM Eastern Time would have disrupted a full season of live coverage on SPEED. There were two possible solutions.
One, move RaceDay up to 9:30AM and let it run until the F-1 program at 11:30AM. Secondly, make RaceDay available on a different distribution pathway. This could have been another Fox Cable Network like FX, Fuel, or FoxSportsNet. SPEED's decision was to move RaceDay to 9:30AM, and keep the Formula-1 race live at 11:30AM.
As The Daly Planet is NASCAR-themed, we are going to discuss how these changes affected the RaceDay program. Essentially, SPEED removed about four of the six bullets in the RaceDay gun with this change. Removed were the live elements that fans had come to expect, and remaining were the RaceDay on-set announcers and the pre-produced features.
John Roberts and his crew kept brave faces, and the NASCAR fans turned-out at the track, but the program was missing its soul. The production crew worked with the content and conditions they had, switching the focus of the show from live reporting to pre-produced features and conversation.
The single person who paid the highest price for this change was Wendy Venturini. Normally the centerpiece of this show, Venturini found herself working in a time frame where the cars were still in their garage stalls, and the drivers in their RV's. Her "target rich" environment was gone.
The show moved into a cycle where a feature was presented, then discussed. Solid taped pieces were used on a variety of subjects. Clint Bowyer, Junior Johnson and Doug Yates were all used for content. Hermie Sadler, Ricki Rachtman, and the RaceDay panel filled-in the blanks with extended conversations.
This edition of RaceDay had none of the spontaneous interviews and exciting background activity that fans have come to expect. Inside the track, Venturini did her best to arrange some interviews and update some news, but it was not the same.
NASCAR is high-profile and vital to the continued success of SPEED. RaceDay is the anchor of this franchise, and sets-up the other programs and personalities on the network. This program has been on-the-air every race weekend since February. Moving it with only four races to go was a tough decision.
Maybe Wendy Venturini said it best while she stood frustrated outside the driver's meeting all alone. "As soon as they get done with the driver's meeting, we are going to...um...maybe...we are running out of time...I do know that." There would be no drivers interviewed, no pit walks, and no real version of RaceDay this Sunday morning.
NASCAR fans got the short end of the stick from SPEED. This situation shows the network slowly growing into a TV outlet that is going to need a second pathway of program distribution in the future. Maybe, this conflict on Sunday helped SPEED to understand that their future as a big-time sports network may have finally arrived.
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