Thursday, July 3, 2008

NASCAR's Side-By-Side TV Failure

There is a lot of media attention that is going to be paid later this week to the TNT telecast of the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night.

TNT will once again move the commercial elements around and offer NASCAR sponsors a one-time opportunity to be innovative in their messages to the fans.

The network uses advertising aired in a secondary video box on the screen and offers race sponsors opportunities to make these commercials longer and more creative. TNT adds-in logos and animation elements to keep an advertising presence during the event. The bottom-line for fans is the ability to see the race continually, except during the commercials inserted by the local cable systems.

This concept works well and NASCAR fans always react positively the day after the telecast is done. Then, they come to the realization that this type of commitment to keeping the racing action on the screen during commercial breaks is nothing new.

Over in the IRL Series, this side-by-side approach is standard. Here is a TDP column about the email received earlier this season on that topic. The overall issue was raised several years ago by our friend Marty Smith in this article published on the website.

Simply by watching one IRL race, NASCAR fans begin once again the annual process of asking why this simple but effective technique is not used by the NASCAR TV partners. All three of NASCAR's national touring series continue to run commercials full screen during all the races except the upcoming one at Daytona.

Last Sunday, while the Sprint Cup Series raced in New Hamphire, fans had an interesting list of viewing options. DirecTV provides Hot Pass which has individual channels and announcers assigned to various drivers. Each driver has his own mini-network for the entire race. The TNT folks offer RaceBuddy which gives online fans four live camera angles, driver audio and interactive features.

Meanwhile, over at the Trackpass and Sprint Raceview features continue to offer their online content for a small price. Raceview has a long list of video and audio features that allows fans to participate in crafting their own viewing experience during the entire event.

Where then does that leave the single network TV feed that gives fans only one option? That option is to turn the volume up or turn the volume down. In this technology dominated society, the network TV telecast often seems to be the least desirable way to "consume" a Sprint Cup race.

One would think that the priority for all three of NASCAR's Sprint Cup TV partners would be to get this side-by-side advertising approach going full-time for 2009. Simply by examining the issues associated with the other viewing options and the availability of other technology it should be a hands-down decision.

Viewing the race while a commercial airs keeps the TV viewer in their seat. Why would they leave? Why would they change the channel? Knowing that the network would instantly return to the race if there was an incident means viewers would probably also not mute the audio during the commercials. Where is the bad part of all that?

Those fans who DVR or Tivo the beginning of the race and then join-in-progress would no longer be able to fast-forward through the commercial breaks because they all contained race action. With the heavier commercial loads of the current NASCAR TV partners, this approach to "skimming" the race and joining for the final thirty minutes has become all the rage.

Finally, advertisers are coming to their senses and not believing that there are fans out there who sit through the ads when they have a remote control in their hand and five hundred channels to surf. Face it, side-by-side commercial insertion is the only way to motivate the fans to even see the content of the sponsors.

Just as Marty Smith said back in 2006, the issue seems to be getting the four involved parties on the same page. ESPN, TNT and Fox Sports each have their own production approach, graphics look and NASCAR philosophy. NASCAR has cut the Sprint Cup pie into three pieces and now has to deal with the consequences.

One of the most prominent topics raised at The Daly Planet is NASCAR fans seeking other viewing options because of the two minute commercials every five minutes. Few other sports deal with this, primarily because stick-and-ball sports can either stop the clock or provide a natural commercial position between innings. In NASCAR, once the green flag flies, anything can happen.

So, here comes the Coke Zero 400 from Daytona and the "wide-open" coverage of TNT. There will be a post up for your comments during and after the race. Please feel free to leave your opinion about the side-by-side commercial issue on this column.

To leave your comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to drop by The Daly Planet.


stricklinfan82 said...


You make excellent points. You are exactly right, if the race would be on continuously in one box side-by-side with the commercials the fans would watch the commercials. When I'm not home I DVR the race and fast forward through every commercial break, never seeing a single commercial. When I'm watching live I change the channel to something else and never see a single commercial. If the race was on side-by-side with commercials I would have absolutely no reason to change the channel or fast-forward the DVR, and I would watch every commercial.

You'd think ESPN/ABC all of people would have been way ahead of the curve on this one. They already use the side-by-side with the IRL, so why not use it with NASCAR? Plus with the Chase running head-to-head with the NFL on Sundays in the fall don't you think they would want to do everything in their power to keep the viewers' eyeballs on ABC watching the commercials and away from the rival networks Fox and CBS? I wouldn't doubt that it's common place for many fans to change to a football game during a NASCAR commercial break and end up sticking around to watch the rest of the current drive or even the rest of the game if something exciting's going on. Full-screen commercials do nothing but scream "Change the channel to our rival networks and watch their programming instead!"

You'd think the TV networks and advertisers would be smarter than that but apparently they aren't and still think the CBS 1979 method of interrupting live racing with full-screen ads is somehow sensible in 2008. I am just completely stunned that the NASCAR/commercials side-by-side was never tried again after the tremendous response and acclaim TBS received for using it at Charlotte in the fall of 2000. Completely stunned.

Anonymous said...

I too, have no idea why we can't have this in all races. I have the DVR set if I'm not home and NEVER see 1 commercial when I replay it.
So if its side by side I would see & hear the commercials.
When I'm home and watching the race I use commercials as a way to post comments here, watch RaceBuddy (who I'm really gonna miss) or Raceview.

What I fail to understand is why didn't TNT use this format for all 6 of its races this year? As I think I recall - everyone liked it last year. It would have really raised the bar for ESPN. And set their coverage way apart from the other 2 networks.

Maybe ESPN is listening and would use side by side this year? Maybe even the last 50 laps so we don't miss any restarts?

Whats going to be interesting is now I'll get to see how many commercials Brighthouse cable here in Tampa can cram in. Not many I hope.

JohnTaylor said...

Seeing as how we are talking about NASCAR and television coverage, making sense might not seem appropriate but I'll try anyway.

What is so hard about all of the network partners utilizing the side-by-side for green-flag racing, and going full-screen on commercials under the yellow? Is it just me, or does that not make complete sense?

You throw the fans a bone by not missing any green-flag racing, and, at the same time, throw one to the networks and advertisers as well by having their products up front and center when the yellow comes out.

I'm one of the growing many who DVR's the race, then starts watching about an hour/hour-and-a-half after the green flag drops. Needless to say, I fly through every single commercial and catch nary a sponsor that's not mentioned in-race.

Should the networks go side-by-side, or side-by-side for green and full commercials under yellow, I'd watch the race "real time" from the start. What does that mean? I'd see more advertisements and more sponsors than I do right now. And isn't that what advertisers pay their multi-million dollars for, to get people exposed to their product?

Viewers these days are too intelligent and have too many options at their disposal to utilize said intelligence.

NASCAR and its TV partners and sponsors can continue to turn a blind eye to the reality of this commercial situation, while all the while I'll be thumb-checking the fast-forward button on my remote.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I also tivo the race and do not watch any commercials. To me, it would seem a no brainer to go side-by-side.

Ken said...

NA$CAR and the networks need to understand that the DVR has changed the viewing habits of millions of viewers. I suspect the owners of DVRs are in the target market of most advertisers. My DVR is set to record every NA$CAR race so I have no need to be home when the race starts or change from a movie, football game, etc.

I turn on my DVR when the race when it is about 3/4 over and I skip the commercials, caution flags and the boring "follow the leader" part of the race. I can see the end live, not miss a second of the action, do my own replays and not waste my afternoon watching commercials that are occasionally interrupted by a race.

Anonymous said...

While we're on the subject, no one else has come close to the commitment NBC showed when it would break out of commercials when something big happened on the track.

YES, they had to do make-goods. but I kept watching throughout the breaks, because I never knew what might happen.

Now, I don't do that anymore. Commercial-time is break-time.

Lou,Kingston,NY said...

Not sure if this goes with the column. But as far as advertisers are concerned. But I agree w/most of the previous posts. I use Hotpass, Foxtrax, live points standings, your column and recently Racebuddy to enjoy my NASCAR viewing experience. On Hotpass I just go to race team audio til commercials are over. and if I so desire, can switch to network audio if I want to. There is a message here for the advertisers. With all the multi tasking to avoid commericals for those of us who do multi task, why spend millions if your message is not getting out there? BTW, two that do stick and make me and my wife remember who they are, is the UPS and NAPA commericals. They are so good/funny and leave a lasting effect

GinaV24 said...

Good points, JD. I'm one of those fans who either DVR the race or have the sound on mute and follow it through trackpass and/or MRN. The commercials interrupting the green flag racing and I include the various promos and special features (cut away car, etc.) as part of the interruption factor have caused me to be a very frustrated viewer, so I don't sit and watch a race all the way through any longer -- plus the racing ISN'T that interesting right now, so why spend an entire afternoon inside in the summer? Actually, I don't think I ever watch commercials in any show that I may have on TV these days -- either I record it and watch it later and FF through the ads or I change the channel when an ad comes on the screen. NASCAR and the TV types need to find a way to satisfy the viewer AND themselves and side by side commercials would seem to be a good option.

Anonymous said...

Something else that they did before as a one time experiment was that ESPN had the race w/commercials on one channel and the race w/o commercials on the other channel. From what I understand it was a Michigan race back in 1988.

But yes I'm one who also often watches through the DVR. I'll watch the morning shows and pre-race and then start the race and depending on where I started either "catch up" to it or end up still watching after it's all said and done. But if I am watching live, I usually don't pay attention to commercials unless something grabs my attention and I'll back it up or if someone posts "hey that was a neat such and such commercial" I might back it up to see it.

Anonymous said...

Until advertisers pay the same rate for side-by-side commercials as they do now for full commercials, the networks are not going to go for it. The networks need to recoup the huge rights fee. They have a business model, just like we all do. Networks can break even on a sports property for the prestige or industry benefits. But they won't take a loss - not in this economic climate with all the networks part of big media companies. It's all up to the advertisers - many of whom already get value from their logos being all over the cars.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 3:08PM,

Could you help us out with the info of why you think IRL ads are sold at a reduced rate?

None of the NASCAR research I did for my column said ad rates were lower side-by-side than full screen for the IRL. What is did say is that advertising fees are higher for NASCAR races than the IRL, I think that is an important distinction to make.


KoHoSo said...

I wonder if most of the posts here are placing the "blame" in the wrong direction? Would it not be the advertisers who are (paraphrasing stricklinfan82 who put it so well) stuck in the 1979 mentality when broadcasters like ESPN/ABC and TNT along with the IndyCar and NASCAR (at least once a year) have shown the ability and willingness to go side-by-side?

To any advertiser reading these comments...I have seen every Cup race this season, but have only watched four commercials max (probably two for NAPA with Mikey, the one where Junior has a camel on his back, and the Jarrett "farewell" ad). As I also follow IndyCar with side-by-side, I can almost quote you verbatim all of Danica's commercials plus extol all of the virtues of Firestone tires by heart.

Are you listening, NASCAR advertisers? For your sake, I hope you are, because a lot of us aren't listening to you right now. Even a grumpy old man in training like me (43 in a few days) has moved on to the 21st Century. Will you join us, or will you get left behind?

Dot said...

I agree with alot of commenters today. I too buzz through the commls. But, I will stop and replay some of funny/clever ones.

I want to know whose decision it is not to do side by side. Advertisers?, NASCAR?, Fans? (just kidding about the fans). Commls or not, with a DVR you rule what & when you watch.

AndrewFromTN said...

Well, I watched a few IRL races "side by side" and I still fast-forward through the commercials. The commercial audio makes it hard to focus on the race. And even if I mute the sound, the race window is too small to see what's going on in the race and I have a 50" high-definition widescreen TV!

Even so, it is still better that the current format. Even when fast forwarding, if I catch something in the race action I want to see, I can back up and watch it.

Unless we go to "pay per view" for watching races, I don't see how we could do better.

red said...

ok, i multitask when watching a race. i have my laptop running and i always have this site, fox race trax, and a driver board up in independent windows. recently, i have added racebuddy to the mix. with this mindset, i tune out commercials completely: during commercial breaks, i'm watching lap times with fox or checking on on one or both of the other boards. i don't have a dvr/tivo capability and don't see that happening anytime soon.

for these reasons, i'm likely the audience for whom side by is intended. when i watch irl, i can't help but be aware of the commercials while i'm also watching the racing. yes, the racing window is smaller and so not as easy to view. but i know i'm seeing both the race and the ad.

so, here's my very basic question that, despite jd's best efforts, seems to be mired in some sort of perverse loop: which party is resisting the side by side strategy for nascar -- the advertisers, the sanctioning body of the sport and/or the tv organization carrying the particular race? to this race fan, it seems that side by side offers the advertisers the single best way in this age of dvr/tivo and internet to get the message seen by the watching fan.

Anonymous said...

When it was announced that ESPN was coming back, folks begged and pleaded to have the split-screen coverage like the IRL. However, this was not to be. The All-Seeing, All-Knowing Brian France said the by having split-screen, sponsors were not allowed to "brand" their advertising. I guess he figues we viewers are cattle that need to be branded. So if you want to point at who's at fault, it's not the networks. It's the NASCAR Nitwit in Charge.

Rockin Rich said...

I like it!

We have a new acronym; NNiC, (Nick), NASCAR Nitwit in Charge.

Matt McLaughlin should pick up on that, and start using it right away.

Anonymous said...

Rockin Rich said...
I like it!

We have a new acronym; NNiC, (Nick), NASCAR Nitwit in Charge.

Matt McLaughlin should pick up on that, and start using it right away.

July 3, 2008 8:02 AM

Ohh I love it & much faster to type than The Great Bumblini - Matt currently uses!!!
NNiC it is! And say it out loud too funny.

Kevin in SoCal said...

I agree with Andrew. I dont care if its side-by-side or full-screen commercials, I will not watch them. I will fast forward thru them. The commercials are boring, unrealistic, and very repetitive. You can accomplish the same effect with a lot less money by having the announcer mention your product like they do now when coming back from commercial.