Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cable TV vs. Local Stations Now An Issue In Racing


The final seventeen NEXTEL Cup races of 2007 saw NASCAR events transition from the Brickyard 400 on ESPN to the final ten "Chase" races being carried by ABC.

This move from a cable television network to a broadcast television network was originally intended to make the "Chase" races available over what is called "free TV."

Right away, interesting things started to happen. Some ABC affiliates ran their local news instead of the pre-race show for the night races. When a Sunday race ran past 6PM, some stations simply left the race in-progress and began their evening news and regularly scheduled programming as if the race never happened.

One of the biggest TV disasters of the season occurred on October 13th. After an exciting race, the entire NEXTEL Cup field sat under a red flag at Lowe's Motor Speedway. As the starter gave the command to crank the engines for the final run to the checkers, the clock struck 11PM Eastern Time. That's when all hell broke loose.

ABC stations across the country decided that the thing to do at that moment...was leave. In many states across the country, ABC viewers were now seeing the smiling faces of their local news anchors. None of them even referenced the race.

In Topeka, Kansas the NASCAR fans were watching KTKA Channel 49. Many of those fans were wearing Clint Bowyer attire, and pulling for the young man from just down the road in Emporia. Even with the scoreboard saying six laps to go, the ABC Station of the Year decided it was time for the KTKA 10PM News. Bowyer was never to be seen again.

During the ABC portion of the NASCAR season, Daly Planet readers reported TV stations in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Florida, New York and even Idaho that decided to pre-empt live NASCAR racing for one reason or another. If a race ran a bit long, some stations often just "left" after the checkered flag. No winner interview, no wrap-up, and no final results.

On Saturday afternoon at 1:00PM Eastern Time, the SPEED Channel TV crew was set to telecast the Rolex 24 sports car endurance race from Daytona. Lots of NASCAR stars were mixed-in with both the professional and amateur drivers.

This season, the first ninety minutes of the telecast, including the start of the race, would be "upgraded" to the Fox Broadcast Network. The Rolex 24 had accomplished a move from cable to "free TV" coverage. What a move it would turn out to be.

Unfortunately, the "us vs. them" mentality that exists between the cable and broadcast TV networks flared again. While the Rolex 24 executives and the SPEED Channel production crew had visions of "big time" national TV coverage, the Fox stations had another agenda in mind. It is called local programming.

West of the Mississippi River, it was apparently a little bit too early for sports. Fox local stations in Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego and even Denver declined to air the Rolex 24 coverage in favor of local programming.

While this was a big blow, the biggest was yet to come. On the Fox local station in Los Angeles, it was the Mutant Ninja Turtles who were racing around the KTTV screen, and not the Grand-Am cars of the Rolex 24. The race start was not being televised live in the second largest TV market in North America.

Eventually, we will find out who was in charge of securing "clearances" for this program, and reporting back to the organizers and SPEED on these issues. It is amazing to experience the same "disconnect" between SPEED and the Fox stations that we saw last fall with ESPN and the ABC Broadcast group.

If this new dynamic continues for motor sports in North America, it will be interesting to see if the sanctioning bodies eventually decide to trade the control and coverage comforts of cable TV for the supposed broader appeal and distribution of the over-the-air "free" national broadcast networks.

The remaining coverage of the Rolex 24 on SPEED went off without a hitch. After the race, SPEED had slotted thirty minutes to talk to the winners and other participants before recapping the event for viewers and signing off. At least the cable TV network involved in the coverage respected live auto racing.

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21 comments:

kendria said...

I hate to say this but this is why I pay for cable (Direct tv and Speed). This half a$$ coverage is not what race fans want nor is it what we deserve. If NASCAR is truly right under the NFL as far as fans, then what gives. I have never had a football go off because it went long!!! Think about at the start off the football season when the games are at 10 am (pacific time) those games are not cut short to start the 1 pm game.
Just my opinion, sorry to sound like a rant. :(

Tripp said...

No problem with the Rolex. Got all 90 minutes from Fox23 in Portland, ME

Anonymous said...

I was astonished to hear about this phenomenon. Knowing little about TV I had assumed that network programming ALWAYS came first.

It makes me very glad that on DirecTV I have my local channels from North Carolina where the sports I love get their due.

If the networks can't crack down on their local affiliates about this then I hope Nascar goes to all "cable" because its better that a few people too stubborn or too poor to get cable/satellite should have to watch races with friends than that entire coverage areas should be unable to see the race no matter what they're willing to do.

Truck Series Fan! said...

JD I found out a little late that the Houston Fox channel had their 90 minutes wrong and started the race at 12:30 PM (Central time) going to 2 PM but then the station rolled over to Speed at 1:30 so everything was messed up and we missed the pre-race info. It was really strange but got caught up after several hours! Good broadcast and crews stayed enthused and informative the whole race. And we're happy our Houston gang finished 4th & 7th.

Bobby said...

The other issue that I haven't heard regarding the Rolex issue is the federal regulation regarding children's television.

The 1990 Children's Television Act states states "educational" programming is required for three hours per week, under limited commercial rules. Traditionally the rule applies on Saturday mornings, even though the rule is often abused, and programming that is not educational (re: cartoons) is often substituted for such programming.

If a station does not air the three-hour block per week, they are subject to penalty from the FCC.

Unfortunately, the way the rule is written affected Fox affiliates on the West Coast because of the three hours that includes the 10-11:30 part of the block that is set for the Rolex 24.

Furthermore, the Tijuana, Baja California (XETV) and Matamoros, Tamaulipas (XHRIO) Fox affiliates are under regulation of the Mexican government, not the United States government. There is no Fox affiliate in San Diego legally, even though XETV will state San Diego on their logo, it is legally a Mexican station and under their rules, not US rules. The same applies in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas (XHRIO in Matamoros is the Fox affiliate; ABC, NBC, CBS, the CW, and even some Spanish networks all have Texas-based affiliates. Fox has theirs in Mexico).

Palmetto said...

This is why I'm glad the Busch / Nationwide Series went to ESPN under the new contract. When NBC had them, my local affiliate, WIS-10, would almost always drop the Busch race in favor of the SEC football game. When I inquired about possible tape delay or rebroadcast, the local program director told me the contract prohibited those options.

Strictly rom a scheduling point of view, having a sporting event on a cable channel is always an advantage over a broadcast network subject to the whims of the local affiliates.

Anonymous said...

'The race start was not being televised live in the second largest TV market in North America.'

...Unfortunately, LA media does not and will not ever care about NASCAR and I think that's out of NASCAR's control. There was discussion on Daly Planet the last couple of weeks about the New York Times' lack of NASCAR stories, but they do an excellent job compared to the LA Times, which is always cutting jobs. The editor just quit because he refused to make more layoffs they wanted him to make.

It didn't send the auto racing reporter Jim Peltz to that media tour. I doubt he's the auto racing reporter now or that there is one anymore - I haven't seen his name on Jayski in a very long time. He hasn't written anything on NASCAR this year -the auto racing page on latimes.com has only Supercross/motocross articles reported by Peltz. The auto racing page also has a list of motorsports links ('Daytona 500','Drivers/Schedule'and 'More Auto Racing News') which used to be up to date, but clicking them now takes one directly back to the main sports page.

So there's nothing NASCAR in LA and I expect the TV coverage 'breakaways' to continue because they assume lack of interest from the area.

GinaV24 said...

It seems that somehow there should be an understanding between NASCAR and the various networks and TV affiliates on how races will be broadcast. There are still a lot of people out there who don't get cable at all or who don't want to pay for it. Considering that supposedly the agreement was for the Chase races (like it or not) to be shown on network, not cable, to have the local affiliates completely blow it off was terrible. I was at the race at Lowe's so I didn't know about it until I got home to look at my tape and found the news! Just as an interesting example, this Sunday I went to tune into my local ABC affiliate to catch the local news and there was an NBA game on instead -- the local news didn't start until after the game was finished. So, does that mean the NBA is more important than NASCAR? Guess so.

I watched most of the Rolex 24 on speed, but I did check to see if it was on Fox here in NJ as scheduled, but I didn't see it on, there was the regular Saturday programming as far as I could see.

Maybe the local affiliate issue is something NASCAR and the TV contracts should address if they are serious about keeping their "core fans".

Bobby said...

Palmetto,

I live in the same vicinity, and that is an issue. WIS's former owners pushed the 2003 Darlington Busch race to the local-access cable channel and in many cases pushed races to the local-access channel. If this was the issue now, WIS would have probably pushed it to 10-3 on the digital channels (WIS has a 10-2 for NBC WeatherPlus).

Keep in mind now WIS has new owners, who own the Carolinas' market biggest stations (WIS, WCSC, WBTV, and the new NBC affiliate in Myrtle Beach; WCSC and WBTV are CBS affiliates which never ditched their NASCAR races when they were on the network). Raycom would rather air their own shows than the network's shows.

WOLO was even worse in the old days. At one time ABC had the Atlanta race, and they would actually tape-delay the event and air it [i]at midnight[/i] while they aired Raycom's ACC Basketball Championship Game. When WCIV was dropped from Orangeburg cable outlets as part of a controversial 1997 move, local NASCAR fans complained, knowing WOLO's anti-NASCAR reputation, and how WCIV would not ditch race fans.

(WCIV switched to ABC in August 1996 when Albritton made an all-affiliates switch; that was made during the 1990's when networks and station operators made a decision to make all stations of a chain affiliated with one network to protect networks, a move made after CBS lost many affiliates in the 1994 affiliate switch; in fact, the Milwaukee market did not even receive the Daytona 500 in 1995 because CBS' new affiliate was not available in most areas.)

earl06 said...

I'll bet if this was a basketball game, there wouldn't have been these issues. In fact, at 11:00 AM MST, while the Fox affiliate in Denver was showing a program about apes and a M*A*S*H re-run, the CBS affiliate was showing east coast college hoops.

It is so frustrating to feel marginalized by local stations just for having an interest in racing.

glenc1 said...

I guess we've been lucky not to have this happen in my area. Being on a broadcast network is kind of a 'be careful what you wish for' scenario. But just so race fans don't think it's only them, lots of programming is disrupted when local stations have deals for college football or basketball, or even minor league baseball. But generally it's not taking off a live event. Many years ago, I remember a local affiliate chose to broadcast the womens US Open Tennis final in a split screen with a college football game because they were contractually obligated (which made both sides angry).

It is a bit surprising that it happened in a market as big as LA--I have to believe that, as people have said, racing just doesn't matter to them. Kinda sad.

I'd be curious to know how much control (or how little) affiliates have vs. the network--can the network take any action against them? Or are affiliates free to show whatever parts of a network's programming they choose?

JP said...

Here in southern California, The Rolex 24 was in the local listings as being on at 10am on Fox. I tuned into cartoon's. To top it off, they showed the start of the race on tape delay right in the middle of Speed's live coverage.

Anonymous said...

The Los Angeles Times may send Jim Peltz to testing this week because he can drive there. Doubtful that we'll see any other coverage from the times except the Fontana races and the Las Vegas race. Driving distance races.

I stopped subscribing as the paper got smaller and smaller (and this was the second editor who quit instead of firing staff) but was reading the online product. Peltz did try to beef up the NASCAR focus, but he probably is being called on to do other things now.

Anonymous said...

No reply to my e-mail to KDVR, by the way.

Bet they won't bother.

Racedriven said...

No problems for the Rolex 24 either, I watched all 90 minutes on FOX25 in Boston, MA. Same goes for last year for the NASCAR Cup Series races, FOX25 no problems, ABC in Boston, MA, no problems either.

I will say, with problems like this, maybe all races should on cable tv, but can ever race fan watch it... can you imagine it, all final 17 races on ESPN, well the Brickyard 400 is, ehy not everything else.

darbar said...

And Nascar wonders why they can't scratch the West Coast markets? Perhaps this is one BIG reason. When local affiliates don't broadcast what the national system is showing, how does Nascar expect the folks from the West to follow the sport? Why doesn't someone contact Nascar and tell them that unless they have some sort of understanding that locals must broadcast what the network is showing, Nascar will look elsewhere for another network that doesn't have conflicts.

Jimmy C. said...

Some folks in the East weren't immune to Fox's local affiliates blowing off the beginning of the Rolex. Fox 21 in Greenville, SC, which is 90 miles from the heart of Nascar country, showed the SC - Kentucky college basketball game. I know, it wasn't a Nascar race, but I was disappointed to have to wait until Speed picked up the coverage.

pj said...

And Nascar and the media ponder why ratings stink? How can people watch what isn't there?

Cyndra said...

I speak for my family here in Los Angeles, and I can tell you all that there were a bunch of us pretty pissed off when we tuned in to the Ninja Turtles instead of the Rolex 24. We planned a bbq, got together, ready to christen the beginning of the racing season. Instead, we ate turtle soup, just cuz. Yeah, LA has NASCAR fans... generations of us are out here. Don't kid yourselves!

margie said...

We were very frustrated to not be able to watch the start of the Rolex here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Then Fox had the nerve to show it at 3:30. So we had been watching the race since 11:30 on SPEED and then got to switch to see the beginning of that same race on FOX. How insulting.

Allan said...

What I find surprising, and inexcusable, about the L.A. pre-emption is that KTTV is NOT a FOX affiliate. It is OWNED by FOX. Also, FOX is based in L.A.
Long story short, the FOX network executives knew about it or, at least, saw what went down. I will be very disappointed if nothing comes of it.