Thursday, July 10, 2008
UPDATED: Tech Troubles Sideline SPEED's News Coverage
Updated information from SPEED below. We thank them for the response.
The picture above is of the side of an actual TV truck at a NASCAR race. Those cables are audio, video and other digital source feeds running into and out of just one truck. There are lots of these trucks in every NASCAR TV compound. If you want to see it full-size, just click on the picture. Thanks to ESPN for this photo.
Many NASCAR fans took the time to tune-in to SPEED at 2:30PM Thursday to hear the big announcement from Tony Stewart on the only motorsports TV network. SPEED would break into regular programming for this live press conference. Unfortunately, things did not work out too well.
It was John Roberts from the SPEED Stage who introduced Bob Dillner in the Infield Media Center at Chicagoland Speedway. Dillner did a short introduction and then stepped aside so Tony Stewart could take center stage.
The moment that the audio portion of the feed switched to the "pool feed" of the press conference, things went bad in a hurry. There was a buzz in the audio and it was persistent. There was no way to deny this was a very big technical problem.
If this had been an audio problem for every network and TV station recording or airing this announcement, there is no doubt the press conference would have been stopped. It was not. One quick change of channels showed ESPNEWS with the same video, but without the audio issues. This was a SPEED problem.
Things quickly went from bad to worse as suddenly the video portion, which had been without problems, went completely to black. Viewers could tell this was from the site because the SPEED logo inserted by the network was still in the corner of the screen. Now, the picture was black and the audio changed-over to a telephone line.
In the TV business, this kind of back-up audio is called a QKT line and is used for emergencies and technical difficulties that cause the entire signal to cease. In this case, rather than hear Bob Dillner or John Roberts tell us the problem, TV viewers heard Tony Stewart for a moment. Then, after a full-screen SPEED logo appeared for a while something surprising happened...a commercial break.
Apparently, SPEED's Master Control in LA that sends the network signal out to the cable companies had lost the incoming feed from Chicagoland and had no choice except to roll a commercial break. The content was promo's for SPEED shows, but other than return to the re-air of last week's Sprint Cup race, there was nowhere else to go. In the TV world, this is referred to as "being handcuffed."
Eventually, the video of the press conference returned, but it had exactly the same bad audio hiss and was almost unusable. You could make out what the panelists were saying, but it was clear that this was a TV mess. The heart-and-soul of what Stewart announced was missed during the commercial break. That was a shame for the fans, viewers and the TV network.
Stewart was in mid-sentence when host John Roberts re-appeared. Roberts had a sheet of paper in his hand and seemed to be reading a script of sorts while looking off-camera. This is usually an indication that the announcer things he is "voicing over" some video and does not know he is actually on-camera.
Roberts read a very brief summary of the Stewart/Haas racing announcement and then began to read a "throw" back to the replay of the Coke Zero 400. The only problem was that the press conference was still in-progress and the fans knew it. SPEED returned to the replay of the race and the nightmare that was the Stewart press conference on SPEED was over.
We all know technical problems can trouble any network, but this was interesting. ESPNEWS had no trouble with their live feed and NASCAR.com was streaming the same content live without a problem. Normally, TV crews do a "fax" check before any transmission which consists of checking all audio and video sources, including the satellite transmission pathway.
The Daly Planet has contacted SPEED to ask about the cause of the problem. We hope to have an official answer soon. It could range from just a bad audio cable to a failure of the satellite transmission uplink on-site. Whatever the reason, NASCAR fans who did not have access to ESPNEWS or a broadband computer had a tough time on Thursday afternoon.
As a final note, SPEED came back on-the-air at 4:30PM with NASCAR Live. Host John Roberts and reporter Bob Dillner never apologized for the problems earlier in the day, never referenced the incident and only replayed selected portions of the new conference.
At a minimum, the SPEED announcers should have told loyal TV viewers what happened and allowed fans to see a good size chunk of the press conference uninterrupted. Instead, Dillner did a summary for fans and the show moved-on.
This season, every network has experienced problems at one time or another. A while back, RaceDay was knocked off-the-air for over forty minutes. TNT lost their audio and video during a race this season. These things are going to happen from the racetracks, but this was very unfortunate timing for SPEED.
UPDATE: SPEED tells us that the audio issue once they switched to Tony Stewart was a problem with the multi-feed box that was supplying the "pool feed" audio. SPEED's audio problems were compounded by a software failure that caused the outgoing feed to loose video. The Fox guys in LA had no choice but to roll a commercial when they had no incoming signal. Ultimately, SPEED tried to route around the audio problem but without success. We thank SPEED for the info update.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button and follow the easy directions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to drop by and leave your opinion.