Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another Long Day's Journey Into Night For ABC/ESPN

The opportunity for the Nationwide Series to be featured on the ABC broadcast network is exactly what this series needs to help raise its profile.

Unfortunately, once again a combination of Mother Nature and the dynamics of broadcast network TV served to spoil the Nationwide Series day in the spotlight.

The new NASCAR on ESPN crew led by Allen Bestwick made the commitment to stay live until the rain stopped from the moment they came on the air. Bestwick's enthusiasm for racing sets the tone for the remainder of the ESPN personalities involved in the telecasts.

After a rain delay, the Nationwide race got underway and the ESPN crew made it clear that the drivers were racing for the halfway point. The weather radar showed a line of rain heading toward the speedway, and the racing got fast and furious.

Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree have combined in the booth to present an entirely new spirit to the broadcasts. Even Rusty Wallace, who has shifted to the Infield Studio, has found new life and excitement after these changes. In terms of analysts, this new configuration has certainly paid-off for ESPN.

What has not paid-off for ESPN or NASCAR is the distribution pathway of the local ABC television stations. Originally, the idea of using the "bigger" availability of broadcast TV was a positive. Now, ESPN has finished one year of significant problems where ABC is concerned and they seem to be heading into another.

Many things have changed in NASCAR, including the fact that most of the tracks that host national events now have lights. Racing at night is not an issue for the drivers or the fans, but it certainly is for the broadcast television networks.

Even before the Saturday race started, several local ABC stations had already decided not to carry the coverage. Storms in Atlanta and Charlotte motivated affiliates to prioritize news instead of sports, and basketball coverage on local stations in the Midwest pre-empted the live race in several other markets.

The scenario of local ABC stations making independent decisions is not new to NASCAR. In 2007, the friction between ESPN and ABC was first revealed when stations covered the pre-race show of the night races with local news, and then left immediately after the green flag to begin their late news. There were many columns on The Daly Planet which can be found in the archives about these incidents.

ESPN told us they were only responsible for the production of the races, and the ABC representative told us that the ABC stations were independent business that make decisions based on their own priorities. So, even "must carry" NASCAR races can be tape delayed for several types of reasons.

On this Saturday, the 6PM Eastern Time "window" had arrived where the live NASCAR coverage had now gone thirty minutes over the scheduled "off time." The March Madness college basketball show scheduled for 5:30PM had already been pre-empted on the East Coast. Many local TV station anchors were sitting in their studios waiting to do the news. It was decision time.

As the ABC/ESPN executives looked to ESPN, they found live college basketball. When they looked at ESPN2, they found the same thing. Suddenly, the huge ESPN media company found itself in the same situation it first experienced in 2007. The only place to move the live NASCAR telecast was the much smaller ESPN Classic cable TV network.

Even as the promos called the Nationwide Series on ESPN "classic racing," the series once again found itself moving to the real "Classic Network." NASCAR interrupted a trick shot billiards show that had probably aired hundreds of times. The original programming budget for ESPN Classic had been cancelled years ago, so the network only replays "free" programs from the ESPN Library.

The exception to this rule is when ESPN Classic has to act as an overflow network for college sports. As luck may have it, when the Bristol Nationwide race was moved to ESPN Classic at 6PM, there was a live college basketball game scheduled for 8PM that night.

If the rain had stopped, and the race had re-started, both ABC and all the ESPN Networks would have been in contractually obligated programming. Live basketball for ESPN, and primetime programming for ABC. As Nationwide Series fans experienced last season with the race at Memphis, NASCAR would have been the odd man out.

As it happened, NASCAR called the event at 6:30PM and the ESPN crew had escaped the "danger zone" by ninety minutes. While only four of the Nationwide Series events are carried on ABC, the Sprint Cup portion of the ABC schedule begins in September. ABC will carry the final eleven races live.

What ESPN and ABC can do to minimize these issues and create a cohesive communications system for affiliate problems between now and September is going to be very important. Perhaps, if key local affiliates are forced or choose to pre-empt coverage then ESPN might consider offering an alternative pathway for viewing in that area.

The good news is that the NASCAR on ESPN crew was solid for the entire Saturday telecast. Even Brad Daugherty pitched-in on a fascinating conversation about Goodyear and their tires during the rain delay. With a production group that worked to solve the problems of 2007 and succeeded, perhaps the ABC and ESPN executives can work to solve the local station issues before September.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the simple instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.


Anonymous said...

JD: may I ask how do you feel about ESPN Classic being used as the catchall network for NASCAR, if they do have this problem when ABC takes over the coverage? I recall you saying in columns that Classic (ESPN 3) would be a good source for NASCAR coverage despite its smaller audience, but I don't know if you meant race overflow included or only practice and qualifying.

Newracefan said...

I agree they need to plan for the future but Classic is a hugh problem for me. If they add a stream on the net it would help but I still prefer to watch my Nascar on the TV. Up until the switch to Classic AB and friends where having a great day.

Anonymous said...

For those who think NASCAR should still be trying to get the race in, got a text that says it's pouring in Bristol. No letup and hasn't been since they went off the air.

SallyB said...

I'm grateful the race was called early, since my cable carrier dumped ESPN Classic last year. If they have to resort tothis too often when ABC carries the races, it's going to leave a bad taste in many viewer's mouths...mine being one of them. I thought the pre race (and rain delay) show was exceptional...especially the interview with the Goodyear rep. While keeping things cordial, DJ, Rusty, nad Andy Petree made excellent points aot concerns with the tires for the new COT with it's totally different downforce and COG than the Bus...oops, er 'Nationwide' cars. It sounds as if Nascar hadn't given much thought to needung a different tire for the COT. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

This comment is ignoring the current weather situation in Bristol.

ABC may have been "committed" to primetime programming, but commitment is a strong word. Over the past few years Saturday night has become a dumping ground for networks. They usually show re-runs, especially re-runs of shows that they are trying to build an audience for. Tonight ABC is showing re-runs of some show that originally aired on Sundays (and was probably pulled after the 2 showings that they are showing tonight.)

That whole paragraph was to say, that IF the weather had cleared (which I understand it won't), there would have been a network that could show the conclusion of the race.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 7:45 said...
JD: may I ask how do you feel about ESPN Classic being used as the catchall network for NASCAR, if they do have this problem when ABC takes over the coverage?
I'm not JD as you can tell, but earlier blog he said:

"When we wrote about it a while back, there was little doubt in our minds that one big "NASCAR on ESPN" problem already existed. The scheduling commitments of both ESPN and ESPN2 were already huge, and we felt that live NASCAR programming was simply not going to fit on-the-air when it was supposed to be shown.

We suggested being proactive, changing the name of ESPN Classic to ESPN3 and making a commitment to NASCAR programming whenever it needed to be shown live. This would include pre-race shows and races scheduled to air when ESPN2 had live events running long.

It would also include post-race broadcasts that would allow live coverage and interviews when ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC had other programming commitments. In other words, when the "big boys" had to leave by contractual obligation, the NASCAR fans would still have a place to go for the stories of the race to be told."

I think it's a great suggestion but IIRC less than 60 percent of the country has ESPN Classic on a cable system, so they'd need to boost that up or a lot of fans will be angry.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed ABC the primetime network doesn't have issues with NASCAR carryover (after 8PM or after 7PM on Sundays). They did really well when races ran over during The Chase.

It's the local affiliates dealing with racing in the mornings/afternoons/early evening (depending on the coasts) - and before ABC network primetime kicks in - who cause the problems with NASCAR.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if local ABC stations can actually replay nascar races over night ... last week when KLKN TV in Nebraska told us they would not air the race due to college basketball, several race fans emailed them asking them to tape delay the race overnight so us fans could atleast tape it. The response we got was that local ABC stations can not replay NASCAR races on a tape delay basis because the ABC/NASCAR contract forbids it. Is that true?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Great comments, it certainly is an interesting issue.

I am lucky in that I have ESPN Classic as well as ESPNEWS and SPEED.

I understand since the lack of original programming, some systems have moved or dropped ESPN Classic.

What this all comes down to is that ESPN needs three channels of cable sports distribution just like SPEED could use two channels.

It should be interesting to see what ESPN ultimately decides to do with the "pathway" now called ESPN Classic.


PammH said...

I feel lucky that I have Classic, but I need an edge-I'm on dial-up, so I can't watch a ton of stuff other folks can. As we know, this situation can change anytime, on Dish's whim..sigh.
But I have to say, I was thrilled my local ABC folks stayed w/coverage until it switched! And the grilling of the Goodyear guy-FABULOUS!!! This is a new ESPN @ it's best...and why??? AB, that's why!!

Matt said...

ABC seems to have the biggest of problems of any network when it comes to local affiliates showing the NASCAR races. I don't remember problems like this on NBC and only a few times for FOX. John, why does this seem to be the case? I would assume local NBC and Fox affiliates would have the same committments.

On a related note, we here in NYC did not see the end of ABC's coverage and almost missed the start due to Breaking News in NYC.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it wonderful to realize that ABC has a strong commitment to such fantastic and intellectual shows like "Here Come the Newlyweds". Not one, but two episodes of that breakthrough show were more important than keeping with the race. If the Nationwide race had been restarted, those of us who's cable networks don't carry Classic would not have been able to see the end of the race. But we would have the amazing privilege of seeing another idiotic reality show. Way to go ABC. You're prejudice is showing, as usual

Tripp said...

What ESPN put on the ABC network today was terrific. Arguably, it was the best rain delay coverage offered on any network in recent memory. I've always liked having the drivers in the infield studios when the wet stuff falls and Clint, as usual, was informative and relaxed in this setting. Major props for addressing the tire issue with the Goodyear official. Situation met opportunity and ESPN grabbed it with both hands and made the most of it.

The broadcast crews in the booth, infield studio and the pits all put up great work today. My only criticism is that Dave Burns needs to loosen up a bit. His coach-side interview with "Happy" Harvick left some bits on the table as Kevin can serve up some interesting and fun responses when asked the right questions.

I want to repeat my appreciation for what Brad Daugherty brings to each broadcast. He might not have the knowledge or experience of Rusty, DJ or Andy, but his enthusiasm, unique perspective and easy manner add to my enjoyment of each broadcast.

Finally, the network vs. affiliate issue is troubling. Since affiliates not owned by the network are effectively franchises, they will always retain autonomy in preempting programming. As such, affiliates in so-called non-NASCAR markets (such as Los Angeles, where KABC is an O&O) will prioritize NASCAR below regional sports and local programming which (I believe) generate more revenue for the local stations.

Cable outlets, by definition, have complete control over what their viewers see. There's no pre-empting nor local programming to shuffle races off the screen. Sure, ESPN has a myriad of commitments to other live events and NASCAR might be moved to another outlet such as Classic. But fans know that both ESPN and Speed will do everything possible to cover a race from start to finish.

This is one reason why it makes sense to cover NASCAR only on cable outlets. However, the big four networks reach more viewers over the air than basic cable and audience "reach" is one of the keys to maximizing the advertising dollar. These are just two of the complex issues that challenge NASCAR and the broadcast partners to come up with the best package for the fans.

I don't claim to be smart enough to have an solution. I've lived too long in the box factory to be able to think on the other side of the corrugated cardboard. In the world of compromise in which we live, things could be a lot worse.

Anonymous said...

Situations such as the one created today because of the rain are exactly why we need a 24/7/365 NASCAR only channel.

I'm lucky enough to have digital cable and therefore can switch to ESPN Classic but I know there lots of people across the country who can't. The shoddy coverage is leaving lots of fans out in the cold. Fans who attend races and spend money on NASCAR gear. Getting shut out time and time again may prompt them to spend their money on other things in the future.

On a good note, I was quite relieved to not hear one single mention of the 99 car and the fiasco from the Vegas race. IF it was mentioned, I was either out of the room or had momentarily tuned the coverage out. Perhaps that dead horse has been put to rest. Finally.

Anonymous said...

Once again, the talking heads forgot that prior to this year, the series was sponsored by Busch. They popped up some drivers who had previously won races at Bristol and had 'NNS' above the date of the wins. I really doubt that Nationwide and its employees were at all responsible for the success of the BUSCH series all these years. Shame on you, broadcasters.

Anonymous said...

It definitely would have been interesting if they were able to get the race going again. We had a few close calls last season on OT races. But it definitely will be interesting to see how ESPN works on getting everyone to get along and not manage to step on each others' toes.

We've talked on various boards about having a NA$CAR channel, but those who don't have cable always complain about that idea. But of course the DREAM would be able to have it how ABC/ESPN is able to with the Indy Car series and have the side by side.

@anon 8:06--I've never watched it but it would be interesting if Oprah's viewers leave. I've watched Oprah's show and I think it's interesting!

@matt--someone on one of my groups posted about that, very sad :(

@tripp--agreed! He needs to watch some film of my Matt Yumyum on how to interview Happy :).

SonicAD said...

I got rather lucky tonight... I had to work, but I recently found out that my DVR could be programmed via a website. So, I talked to someone in a NASCAR chatroom I run, and gave him instructions on what to do if the race got bumped off of ABC (which I set to record into the evening, since I had no clue what they'd do if it rained again). As it turned out, it did indeed get bumped to ESPN Classic, and he was able to switch it over there, so if the race resumed I wouldn't have had to miss the end (which would've happened if I didn't have anyone to change it, because I had to record the ALMS race on my DVR's other tuner, and since ESPN Classic moved to digital last year I wasn't able to leave a tape running on it.) I hope the situation doesn't happen again later this year, but if it does I think I can at least be safe from a channel switch like what screwed me with the Kansas race last year in the Chase.

spring rubber said...

@ anon 8:52

ESPN2 is rebroadcasting the Nationwide race right now as I type this. I wonder if we'll see this with all ABC races this season.

Anonymous said...

I missed all of this because I have a TiVo season pass for the Nationwide series on ESPN. Why not jsut leave the races on one station and be done with this mess?

Anonymous said...

One comment and one question about the actual coverage of the race.

First of all.. the Martin Truex wreck once again proves why the producer should NEVER SWITCH TO AN IN-CAR CAMERA during a wreck. We the fans had absolutely no idea that Kyle Busch was involved until after the accident. If they would have used a nice, WIDE ANGLE shot the fans could have been emotionally involved either rooting for Busch to make it by the accident or get tied up into it. Instead... we didn't even know what happened until a replay.

Now my question for John... why does it seem like it takes so much longer for the networks to find the accident with their cameras then it used to. It seemed like in the old days as soon as Ned Jarrett would say "trouble in turn 4" the camera were right on it.

Am I imagining things?

Daly Planet Editor said...

There is a new post up about the Sunday NASCAR Now.


stricklinfan82 said...

ABC television is the worst thing that has happened to this sport in a long time. It is a joke that all of these ABC affiliates constantly pre-empt pre-race shows, post-race shows, and sometimes the races themselves. It is also a joke that ABC will NEVER pre-empt prime-time programming for a race that is delayed by rain. I knew they had next to no commitment to this sport in the "old era" of TV contracts, baed on debacles like running away from the 1995 Brickyard 400 and 2000 Las Vegas Cup race during rain delays and leaving them with no live TV coverage on any other network, and the Busch race sometime in the late 90's (Pikes Peak maybe?) when they moved the finish to ESPN2 with less than 10 laps to go because the race simply "ran long".

I did expect that this would change though with the modern-era NASCAR TV contract. Since 2001 Fox and NBC set great examples of ALWAYS sticking with both the Cup and Nationwide/Busch races until the bitter end during same-day rain delays, no matter how much prime-time programming had to be pre-empted. Hell, even this year at California Fox stuck around and was prepared to televise the conclusion of the race in its entirety... starting at 2 AM! Unfortunately ABC couldn't care less about NASCAR and its fans. The Kansas Cup race, a CHASE race nonetheless, that was rain-delayed last year finished at 8:15 PM EST... and ABC was already LONG gone and only viewers that were lucky enough to be watching the rain delay coverage when the directive to switch to ESPN2 was given were able to see the finish. 8:15! It's not like the race ended at 3 AM (like the '05 Pepsi 400 that NBC stuck with through the end, as another point of comparison by the way). The race ended a little more than 2 hours after ABC's off-time and they ran away. Saturday's Nationwide race ended at 6:45 PM I believe. 1 hour and 15 minutes after the scheduled off-air time and ABC was again long gone!

You have no business televising NASCAR races if you can't allow for a weather delay as small as 1 or 2 hours! ABC can go to hell as far as I'm concerned. I hope NASCAR is paying attention and ABC is long gone once the new TV contract is negotiated, if not sooner (like say, tomorrow). Boy wouldn't it be nice if NASCAR would move to all Saturday night races in a few years so Fox would be able to televise the entire season?

alex said...

It's too bad living in Atlanta. I wanted to watch the race, but I couldn't have unless I knew to watch at 3am on ESPN 2. The station had constant weather updates all day and didn't bother to mention if they were tape-delaying the race, or if it could be found on another channel. Right at 2:00 or during the rest of afternoon, the local affiliate failed to mention that a race was even part of the programming schedule, or what they were going to do to reschedule it. You'd think that in a large market like Atlanta that they'd try to find someway to tape-delay it, apparently they just have no interest in the race.

ri88girl said...

I thought the Goodyear interview was a great 'get' for ESPN, like having Mike Helton show up in the booth on FOX, it really stamps credability on the ESPN team. I think it AB, but maybe that's just me.

I am not a KK fan, but even I know who his brother is, Dave Burns needs to get involved more if he expects us to take him seriously.

Brett Baldeck said...

Here my opinion. Let's say that the rain was light at Bristol, and we knew for a fact the race would be restarted.

In this instince I think they would have kept the coverage on ABC. But what happend was the rain began to pour and things did not look good. I think it was obvious the the folks at the track that NASCAR would call the race since they were past halfway.

I think they moved coverage to ESPN Classic since they pretty much knew it was over. They would have stayed on ABC if it was light rain and they didn't lose the track. But the track was lost.

There is no reason to delay programming on a major network then you know the race will not be restarted.

Anonymous said...

My local ABC station cut into the broadcast twice (Once after the ceremonies, which ended before the green flag, and during the rain delay, meanwhile taking up all remaining coverage) to cover the Crane Collapse in East Manhattan. Apparently my station forgot that not all of us live there! Ah well, at least they were quick about it the first time.

But regardless, it seems that ESPN and ABC, while having the same production team, have a different agenda...Which won't be promising come their Chase coverage.