Monday, October 15, 2007
One of the most interesting aspects of this NASCAR season has been the wide variety of choices that fans have for NASCAR information. It seems that every year these choices increase as the TV, Radio, and Internet technology advances. Setting radio aside for a moment, we are going to discuss one aspect of the television vs. Internet overlap that has been fascinating.
ESPN certainly did not have DirecTV's Hot Pass in mind when they agreed on their current NASCAR TV package. Meanwhile, the guys over at NASCAR.com are actively promoting themselves as the true source of live NASCAR racing. So, fans now have access to "The Chase" races on a broadcast TV network, by direct satellite TV, and by Internet webcast.
Each of these delivery systems has its pros and cons. The NASCAR.com webcasts often provide more coverage of both pre and post-race activities and interviews than the ESPN on ABC TV broadcast.
Unfortunately, NASCAR.com continues to be a very "official" source of NASCAR information and is burdened by a tremendous overlay of commercial information and advertisements. Negotiating around their site often involves finding nothing more than updated race reviews and statistics while fighting off endless pop-ups and ads.
While the DirecTV Hot Pass offers a driver specific "mini-network," it also puts a narrow viewpoint on a long race, and makes users listen to announcers that may or may not be their favorites. The ABC telecast caters to the casual fan, and comes with all the high-tech features and multiple cameras that viewers could ever want. The down side has been a network still struggling to function as a "team" on the races.
Other than the events themselves, ESPN offers NASCAR Now as the place for fans to get their NASCAR information from a cable TV source. The one hour high-profile Monday program really gives the network an opportunity to capitalize on its TV exclusivity with interviews and features recapping the weekend.
This brings us to one of the most unique media issues of 2007, and that is the Jayski.com website. Now more than ten years old, this site originally appealed to fans as a great source of NASCAR information that could not be found on the official NASCAR site or in the mainstream media.
Fans loved the fact that the site was hand-crafted, unofficial, and also offered easy access to the other media stories nationwide about the sport. There were no chat rooms, no angry words, and the best part was that the information was constantly updated. NASCAR officials and teams suddenly found themselves responding to the news, gossip and "silly season" rumors posted on Jayski.com.
This year, ESPN bolstered their presence in NASCAR by stepping-up and buying the Jayski.com site. Along with the NASCAR Now TV series, these moves showed the commitment of ESPN as a corporation to integrate themselves into the sport as they returned to NASCAR after almost a decade.
Now, fans would have a partnership that could deliver the same in-depth NASCAR news on both TV and the Internet under the ESPN NASCAR "umbrella." But, a funny thing happened on the way to the party. The NASCAR Now production team made a conscious decision not to mention the Jayski.com website.
It is now October. How many times have you heard anyone on NASCAR Now reference a news item on Jayski.com since February? How many times has a NASCAR Now reporter used Jayski.com in a feature as the source of their information?
Finally, how many times has the NASCAR Now host closed the show by sending viewers to the ESPN-owned Jayski.com website for more information? Let me help you with the answers to those questions. That would be none.
Nothing has been more confusing in this season of ESPN confusion about NASCAR than why the on-air announcers in both the races and NASCAR Now have avoided Jayski.com like the plague. Wouldn't more site traffic on Jayski be a good thing for ESPN? Wouldn't that maybe make...sense?
Since the purchase, things on Jayksi have changed a bit, but the ease of operation and the depth of NASCAR information has remained the same. Fans can deal with the fact that the ESPN stories get listed first, and that the big promos for things like College Gameday now grace a NASCAR site.
What is most interesting to us at The Daly Planet is that Jayski hosts video from ESPN directly on his site. Although users must watch either an ESPN promo or a commercial for thirty seconds first, the videos are updated continually and have the latest in NASCAR news and highlights. Along with the stories and results, the upgraded Jayski site offers a tremendous amount of content. Much more content than the NASCAR Now TV series.
For NASCAR fans this season, Jayski has been a blessing. The ESPN.com coverage of the sport features mainstream stories mixed-in with columns from several reporters like Marty Smith and Terry Blount. Anyone who lingers on the site will eventually press the link button and go over to read the expanded content at Jayski.
On this Monday, NASCAR Now did not bring on the news reporters until almost forty-five minutes into the one hour program. They quickly updated some information, passed along some brief news, and then were quickly lost in the rest of the program as usual. This show has become a video montage of race footage, music videos, and a seemingly endless review of The Chase drivers race results.
The best thing that NASCAR Now could do is to begin to treat Jayski as a partner on-the-air. This TV series needs some serious help with NASCAR fans and viewership. Simply by creating some in-show features referencing Jayski, by telling viewers NASCAR Now videos are posted on it, and by directly sending viewers to it at the end of each show there would be a connection made that is now not in place. Unfortunately, it should have been in place in February.
This is the on-going saga of ESPN's first year back in NASCAR. Some of the pieces of their NASCAR puzzle are almost in place, while others have never even been touched. In the curious case of NASCAR Now and Jayski.com, never even acknowledged.
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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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