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.

35 comments:

tom in dayton said...

For all:
Please be aware that Jayski has a link to the complete transcript on the Haas/CNC website for those of you who missed part or all of the Stewart press conference.

Karen said...

Well, thank goodness for that and thank you, Tom.

Anonymous said...

John. I noticed on ESPNEWS during the whole press conference they gave credit to "NASCAR MEDIA GROUP". So that means they were recieving the feed from NASCAR. So does this mean SPEED was using their own feed, own cameras, own mics. If so. Why did they not switch over to the NASCAR Media feed since they had audio problems?

alex said...

http://haascncracing.com/news/2008/haas/071008-transcript.html

JD,
Does SPEED actually record any of the press conference on site for tape, or do they send it all to LA and LA records it for future use?

What I'm getting at is, if they completely lost the signal from Chicago, maybe SPEED had no way of recovering the footage to show again. That could explain why they didn't replay it.

SophiaZ123 said...

Still a shame. We saw Tony at his finest; thoughtful and serious and eventually his sense of humor showed through. Thankfully ESPN ran most of it and NASCAR.com picked up the slack after that.

I feel bad for folks who tivo'd SPEED.

It's also most unfortunate SPEED did NOT apologize once back on live tv??? Isn't this the stuff we accused ESPN of doing last year...pretending all was well after a major technical snafu.

Oh, well. I was grateful to have E News and internet as a major Tony fan.

Thanks for the article JD and great photograph! I wish you could could tell us who some of these fantastic photo's are photographyed by, that you post here. This one, among others, is priceless!
:)

red said...

first of all: that photo is priceless! and i thought i had a problem with way too many cords!

as for the speed situtaion: a dear friend of mine would call that "a hot mess" and i would have to agree. i understand technical problems can happen, from the bad audio, thru the people walking in front of the camera, right up to the lost video feed as well. "stuff" happens. and i don't work in that profession so i can't even begin to try and explain what went so wrong today. i'm choosing to believe that eveyone involved from the technical end did what they could at the time.

what i don't understand is speed acting as if it didn't happen and not even offering the usual "technical difficulties" explanation. this was a BIG DEAL and speed wasn't able to bring it to us in their usual solid fashion. someone, at some point, should have stepped up and explained or apologized, preferably both. that's where my disappointment lies tonight.

i won't stop watching speed b/c of this -- i have other reasons that i rarely tune to speed outside of races! -- but if there's "a next time", i'll likely start at nascar.com b/c they did the most complete job today.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't figure out what was up with the terrible audio but when they lost the video I about lost it as well!!! Then to come back and have people literally standing up and walking in front of the cameras was a joke. Then to just go rejoin the replay of the race was unreal! Thank God for Nascar.com...it was how I was finally able to see it.

I also agree that Speed coming back on and never apologizing is pathetic. Even if they don't have all the video to replace the entire conference in it's entirety, the very least they could do is apologize for their "technical difficulties".

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon, the "pool feed" I referred to was the source of the audio problems for SPEED.

Normally, this does not happen because all the audio and video sources are simply tested prior to air...mic check, mic check.

Whatever went wrong must have been something outside the media room or perhaps just a bad audio cable for SPEED.

Really tough circumstances for them, it appeared they could not get it fixed. My suggestion would have been to go back to John Roberts and have him fill. You could always show it time-shifted and just say you had a problem.

At least that way the folks without ESPNEWS or NASCAR.com broadband would see the announcement. This way, everybody lost.

JD

Anonymous said...

What a HORRIBLE press conference.

First of all, Tony: If all you have to announce is a 50% stake in Haas, then why not leave it a secret and let people speculate for a year. Then hold a REAL press conference when you can show off a car, a number, a paint scheme, sponsors, everything. This was lame - even the Stewart-Haas logo looked like a last-minute job.

Second, Speed: WAY TO DROP THE BALL. I could go on and on about the technical difficulties, but I won't because I guess that can happen to anyone. But even if they had stayed on the air.. what in the heck were they thinking? There were photographers standing up in the frame on a national feed, there was poor sound, they couldn't get a good camera angle. It was just horrible.

You imagine one of the Top 5 players in the NBA or baseball moving teams and think of the production that would be, both from the player and the network. This was just the laziest, ad-hoc non-event. I couldn't believe it.

And then frankly I think the journalists dropped the ball, too. First question to the Haas GM about Tony's passion. Wow, nice first question. Of everything you could possible ask, you ask a question that will get a generic response like "Wow, it means so much to have someone of Tony's caliber join our team." I mean, really. That journalist should be ashamed.

I would think all parties involved would want a do-over. I bet Joe Gibbs is laughing his tail off

bevo said...

JD,

It seems like Speed has had a lot of technical problems this year. Do you think it has anything to do with them switching to HD?

Gymmie said...

Kudos to the folks who know what to do with all those cords :).

It's a shame of the technical glitches I hope they're able to get it all smoothed out. I can't recall these many problems with SPEED in the past. And usually they have the scrolly at the bottom apologizing :(.

SophiaZ123 said...

Bevo

GREAT question...I have noticed the problems as well and just have old tv...

-But this week I had to call a local station (only one in HD but I was watching the normal station)that had one inch of a black bar on the bottom of the screen, after a commercial, for an hour....20 minutes in I called & some engineer dept lady simply thanked me for calling and then tried to blame it on TW or the network?? I told them the same show in another city affiliate was fine. She said there were two working at the station and she would tell them...took another 40 minutes to fix it. Never saw that in 40 years of this station that just happened to have HD station now..can the feeds get crossed? but what I saw was nothing like the mess on SPEEd...just picture distortion at the top of the picture.

so yea, I would like to get a full report from SPEED. I am a detail person and the more i know, the more I can understand when things go wrong.

Also JD if they stay mum and pretend that such a problem existed, who gives the command to NOT explain the issue on the air? Any idea..I dont' blame JR or Steve and the boys.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- Is it possible that SPEED's problem was they had to rush to get set up, since this was a Thursday event instead of Friday, and they just did not have time to get everything checked out? Is there a pecking order for setting up such that NASCAR Media and the race networks (ESPN & TNT) get access first and SPEED has to wait for the others to set up?

Jo said...

A shame that Speed couldn't (during rain delays & cancelations today) trouble themselves to re- air the entire press conference for fans. OOPS sorry that would have required admitting there was a problem in the first place.
What a mess for Speed , one they could have atleast admited and kind of fixed. Instead we got usual rainout junk

Kenn Fong said...

J. D.,

Those who were hoping to see some of the presser on the repeat of "NASCAR Now" were out of luck. The Deuce did not even have it on their schedule. A soccer game ran through the normal time and then it was followed by one of ESPN's junk sports.

I wonder if ESPN could be convinced to carry the "NASCAR Now" repeat on the web at a fixed time each weeknight.

Kenny
Alameda, California

Kyle said...

Looks like a spaghetti factory exploded all over that truck!

Problems happen, we all know and accept that. But ignoring your problems doesn't fix them nor make the go away.

A simple, Hey speed fans someone spilled coffee all over the monkey that runs the audio, were sorry heres a few clips of what you missed. That would have been just fine with everyone at home.

As soon as the audio in the room was screwed on SPEED, I bet ESPN ratings tripled.

Daly Planet Editor said...

kenn,

They are struggling with having two event-oriented ESPN TV networks and clearly need a third network for overflow and news/talk programs like NASCAR Now.

This is the current ESPN situation, and NASCAR is only one sport being affected. Either we are eventually going to see NASCAR Now replay once on ESPNEWS or ESPN Classic is going to begin to carry mainstream ESPN programming.

Just yesterday, ESPN announced that it was not going to originate all live morning programming, but limit itself to a pre-determined block. Perhaps, instead of showing SportsCenter over-and-over again, we might see NN put in the AM on a Monday through Friday basis.

JD

Daly Planet Editor said...

richard,

There was no problem with the set-up and on news stories like this there is no order in which the networks go.

After the race and during the on-track activity, there is a specific order for the live rights holders in both the TV and radio side.

JD

Anonymous said...

Speed certainly reached new heights in embarrassing themselves , not only on the technical side . They put on a dazzeling display of inept production proceedures , my favorite was John Roberts' failed attempt at reading notes written on what appeared to be a roll of toilet paper . And instead of repeating the press conference when they had the problems under control , they gave us a scintillating 4th or 5th time repeat of Truck U .
Speed has reduced their budget , the quality of their personel , the quality of their shows , and gotten away with it . So expect more fiascos like the Stewart Haas press conference . Speed is only interested in ultra low budget shows that they can run over and over and over again .

Jo said...

BTW JD
Awesome photo of cables. I thought I had cable management messes!

Thanks to you & ESPN for a quick peek behind the scenes.

Lou,Kingston,NY said...

Good Morning JD,

One look at the photo and I almost forgot about the reason for the column. I think we all have or still have a mess like that. But the crew has to pick that mess up every week as we do not, oh well, It has to be alot of work to sort out that mess. thanks for the photo.

Just as a fan it would have been nice to know what the problem was. And I feel SPEED let us down on that. I understand stuff happens.

Dmo said...

This may go too technical, but it sounded like the output audio from the Pool was at Mic-level (which would be expected at a press bridge), but the guy monitoring levels at SPEED's truck or Sat truck had that input set for the much-greater Line-level (or the input channel there was bad). When that happens, all the signal amplification required to bring up the audio happens later in the transmission process - which means that any noise introduced in the signal path through the equipment also gets amplified. I say this because a bad cable would normally result in massive hum and/or interference,scratchy/intermittent source audio, etc. My vote is "OE" - Operator Error - at either the mixer in the Sat truck or where ever the audio went first after the press bridge at the Pool. Of course, this is all pure conjecture on my part - take it for what its worth.
-D

Anonymous said...

Actually, SPEED has indeed had problems in the past ... with the hastily called press conferences ... Some in the Charlotte area, some in other cities ...


How about we just agree to put the blame of ALL News Corp problems solely on the head of Roger Ailes?? LOL


I'm glad I didn't get up to see the press conference ... It's a sad day for some of us former fans of Tony Stewart / Joe Gibbs Racing and the American Justice System ...

Daly Planet Editor said...

There is an update from SPEED on the main page column.

JD

Jo said...

JD
Thanks for posting the update. Wow talk about a bad day at work.

Lou,Kingston,NY said...

Thank you JD for getting that for us. And thanks to SPEED for finally getting back to us fans. I kind of wish or had hoped we could have had that info yesterday. Not knowing how this stuff works at times I understand. Comment to SPEED, that was all I needed, just an explaintion of what went wrong. Glad that ESPN and NASCAR.com carried the ball after the FUBAR.

Newracefan said...

Love the picture JD and I thought my mess behind my TV was bad. Speed's only error was not saying they were sorry for the technical difficulties and they were trying to fix and and then one that said they couldn't. Even a thing at the bottom would have worked like they do when the races are rain delayed.

Kenn Fong said...

J. D.

Thanks to you and SPEED for the sitrep. Live shots are filled with problems to prevent or solve. Even the best of them have problems which interrupt or otherwise foul up things.

Last month, NBC lost video and audio at least three times during its coverage of the Russert funeral from Kennedy Center carried on MSNBC. I have to believe that because it was one of the most beloved members of the NBC News family, that preparation for technical devils was a top priority, and they had a skilled anchor in the studio vamping during the outages.

I know the folks at Speed were trying their best with the resources they had available.

Kenny
Alameda, California

Jason in Georgia said...

Not only did NASCAR.COM not have any problems, they graciously even posted the presser in its entireity on the front of their site.

Jason in Georgia said...

They also have it here:

http://www.nascar.com/2008/multimedia/races/cup/0020/

Anonymous said...

Not sure where your photo came from, but that is NOT an ESPN truck. That is the access panel to SRT. Shared Resources Truck

Jason in Georgia said...

The above should end in /0020/ but it got truncated.

Jason in Georgia said...

Anonymous,

You asked where the photo came from? JD even said "thanks to ESPN for the photo."

Also, you said that is not an ESPN truck. Nowhere did anybody said it was. JD just said thanks to ESPN for providing it. There is a difference.

Anonymous said...

Jason,
Just stated a fact, that isn't an ESPN truck.

Daly Planet Editor said...

The photo came from the ESPN PR group. It is the shared truck.

JD