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 NASCAR.com 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 NASCAR.com 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.
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