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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