Tuesday, February 5, 2008
SPEED And ESPN Together For One Last Day
Fans this week have been witness to an interesting moment in NASCAR TV coverage. While SPEED is wrapping up weeks of pre-season daily shows, the NASCAR Now series on ESPN2 is just getting underway.
The result is a display of the very different styles of two of NASCAR's biggest TV partners. Wednesday will be the last easy day to see these styles, as Thursday kicks-off Media Day at Daytona, and both networks add lots of programming.
SPEED has set a relaxed and informal tone with their non-racing NASCAR programming for some time now. The network chose Steve Byrnes to host the final three pre-season shows, and viewers have become comfortable with his tone and humor.
Like many other non-sports networks on cable TV, there is an atmosphere set that encourages fun and allows for informality when the on-air hosts are casually attired. SPEED has worked hard to integrate that casual look into its NASCAR coverage.
ESPN, on the other hand, chooses carefully to select business attire as the norm for the on-air talent. Blazer and tie are usually required, and when the network tried to put the NASCAR announcers in bright red long-sleeve oxford shirts last season, there was not a good result.
Each choice of attire is very much related to the on-air philosophy of that network. The antics we see with Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer on RaceDay are not going to happen with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty on NASCAR Countdown.
Tuesday night, we saw the business suit of Ryan Burr at 6PM and then saw the SPEED logo shirt and khaki pants of Steve Byrnes at 7PM.
Burr's more formal attire set a fast-paced tone for very structured conversation and news reporting. It looks like ESPN. Slick, polished and scripted. The non-scripted moments actually stick-out like a sore thumb.
The downside to that approach is the lack of informal conversation and general "kidding around." Only Boris Said was slick enough to mock the host and goof-around last season on NASCAR Now. Everyone else was buttoned-up and looked ready for the weekly staff meeting.
SPEED, on the other hand, enjoys their casual attire and informal tone. That does come, however, with a price. The upside is all of the memorable moments like Michael Waltrip not wearing socks or the RaceDay guys dressed up in white wigs and black gowns to "hold court."
The downside is that sometimes the "goofing around" gets out of hand. Things got off-track somewhat on Trackside and certainly the entire "Rutledge and Ricki" act on RaceDay was sometimes just embarrassing. Luckily, that element will not return for this season.
So, as we continue to talk NASCAR TV it certainly is interesting to see two networks basically delivering almost the same content in two completely different styles. While this will come in a nice package of two shows on Wednesday, things completely change on Thursday.
ESPN News Network will launch a three hour live show from NASCAR Media Day with hosts in both the ESPN Studios and in the Daytona Media Center. SPEED will provide their own Media Day show later, and then continue on with even more NASCAR programming.
From that point on, viewers can basically just sit back and watch hundreds of hours of NASCAR programming delivered by ESPN and SPEED all the way through November. The NASCAR TV season is officially here.
As you scan through the program guides and continue to watch the "support programming" like RaceDay, This Week In NASCAR, NASCAR Now, Tradin' Paint and NASCAR Countdown, keep in mind the two very different TV network approaches to the same content.
With new faces in place for both SPEED and ESPN, we will be keeping an eye on what programs are going well, and which shows are in need of some repair. Rarely can one sport thrive in an environment where it is presented in two such distinct ways.
It should be interesting to see what manner of delivery to the NASCAR fans brings in the desired results for these two NASCAR TV partners.
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