Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The TV Cost-Cutting Talk Has Begun


The outstanding Charlotte-based reporter Michael Smith offered an article Monday updating the concerns of the NASCAR TV partners about declines in advertising revenue for 2009.

While one way to keep the current advertisers in the sport is to offer a new level of cooperation and integration between the TV partners, there is also an eye toward cutting TV production costs for the upcoming year. You can click on the picture above to see the tremendous size of a typical NASCAR TV compound.

Click here for the link to the full Sports Business Journal article, while here are some excerpts:

Facing a discouraging ad market, Fox is talking to NASCAR and ESPN about ways the network can save money on its broadcasts of the sport next year. Fox was expected to meet with NASCAR this past week and ESPN in the coming weeks to explore potential cost cuts on the production side.

NASCAR's Paul Brooks said the sanctioning body will work with Fox to find savings as long as the viewers won’t notice a difference. “There are additional things we can look at as far as sharing and managing facilities in an even more efficient way,” Brooks said.

Can broadcasters get by with 55 cameras instead of 60? Can they share a production truck over the course of a weekend instead of using multiple trucks? Those are the kinds of cuts the TV networks will weigh.


“It’s something we’re very cognizant of,” said Rich Feinberg, ESPN’s vice president of motorsports. “Every business has been affected by the economy and we’re just trying to stay ahead of those things. Our content will still be there, but we’ve got to take a closer look at how we acquire that content. Are there areas where we can be flexible?”

The combined TV rights fee for Fox, ESPN and Turner averages $560 million a year through 2014. Additionally, each of the networks has a multimillion-dollar spend with NASCAR Media Group, which manages the TV compound at each venue and provides additional content, such as unique camera angles and audio.


Smith explains that NASCAR is happy with the balance between races on cable and broadcast network TV, so changes in that area are not going to happen. Neither will NASCAR consider moving any races to pay-per-view.

All three of the Sprint Cup TV partners had very specific reasons for buying into the current NASCAR TV contract and those reasons have not changed. The most likely scenario for 2009 is an increased sharing of on-site facilities between the TV partners.

No mention has been made of eliminating hard costs like The Hollywood Hotel, ESPN's Infield Pit Studio or the TNT rotating infield stage. We saw that TNT shot all the Wally's World features at Pocono in 2008 in order not to travel the cars and support personnel. Tim Brewer's ESPN Tech Center is also a very expensive item.

Reductions on that scale would no doubt result in less on-air and behind-the-scenes production folks traveling to the races. While all these elements would change the broadcasts as we know them, keep in mind that SPEED handled the entire 2008 Truck Series with four or five total announcers, no infield facilities and few added costs. The result was a tremendous increase in TV ratings and an outstanding year.

We will keep you updated on these issues and thanks again to Michael Smith and The Sports Business Journal for the information in his report.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. 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 stop by.

45 comments:

majorshouse said...

I personally think that all of the television partners would be much better off if they took the Speed motto that less is definitely more. If they would cut their production crews and announcing crews to the bone and run them like Speed has done with the truck series, they would not only save a good bit of money but would more than likely have a much better product as well.

Sophia said...

Hmmm.not happy to read they may cut back on cameras...many tracks were LACKING in cameras this past year and often missed action on the track.

Then again, with better DIRECTION and less toys, we might 'see more on the track'? Also all that extraneous graphics, video packages run over the race, tech center, Hollywood hotel, could do with OUT those things.

How about less PRE RACE show...cut it down to 15 minutes....cut Raceday back to an hour. Two hours is too long, three hours is nuts..and I like the guys on that show.

And less talking heads in the booth in some cases...if somebody is sitting there on his hands not saying much, why keep him hired?

SallyB said...

Can we hope that some of the cost cutting might come in the form of fewer in car cameras, no more 'draft tracker', and burying the 'digger cam' forever? I would be very happy with fewer bells and whistles and more coverage of the on track racing. It would certainly mean less time spent losing green flag laps to gimmicks. I hope. One has to wonder how long it will be before sagging ratings lead the networks to discuss chopping some of the expenses at the top end of the scale...how much they are paying Nascar to televise the races.

Bill H said...

SallyB

Unfortunatly, digger, draft tracker and the other gimics are probably the cheapest element. All it is is a computer and some software (except the actual digger cam).

If they do cut costs back I would expect to see more computer animations, like what TNT and NBC used, the cartoon / cutaway car.

The other way to save money, more commercials at a cheaper rate.

Bill H

David said...

pst, ESPN...fire some of those talking heads you seem to have an excess of and maybe that will help.

dont spread the secret though.

In all seriousness, as Brian France said earlier this year, its time to get back to basics. Get rid of some of the glitz and showy crap and simplify the broadcast. just because you have the technology to make fancy graphics and cool tech centers doesn't mean you NEED either. Where cost cutting will come to play is in the second half of the year when ESPN gets control of the Cup schedule, what will SPEED and ESPN come to agree to? Cutting on cameras is no bother to me because if they would spend more time with some wide angle shots instead of all these zoom shots then you wouldnt need as many cameras to start with.

Less is more.

Richard in N.C. said...

To a certain extent this appears to me to be looking at the wrong end of the stick. Maybe if the networks gave better coverage to the cars running out of the top 10 then maybe the sponsors of those cars might be encouraged to buy more ads if their cars were getting more exposure.

Sophia said...

Richard

A big BINGO to your statement about showing more cars on tv besides the top 10. I have been saying that since early last summer!!

Nan S said...

First thing is cut back on the talking heads. Max three people calling the race and some pit reporters. No need for an infield/hotel group at all. They are trying to be like the football coverage, having a half time crew to review the game so far and talk about other games being played that day. Nascar doesn't have a half time, so no need for these people.

The in car cameras pointed at the drivers head are useless. Those pointed forward are very useful.

Cut way back on the pre-race shows. The longer they go on, the fewer views they attract.

All, in all, I think that Fox, ESPN, etc. will find that they overpaid for Nascar as I expect viewership to continue to decrease due to the new car that doesn't look like any car in the showroom, total domination by the big teams, fewer manufacturers, some long boring races/tracks, and a long, long season with a trumped up chase.

David said...

Nan, most of your points I agree with but something I do not is your view on the COT. The old car doesnt look like anything in a showroom either. Does your car look wrecked in the showroom twisted like crazy?

No. It doesnt.

The new car is a closer rendition of a "showroom" piece and if you disagree go check out the Challenger concept for the Nationwide new car.

Pre-race is overkill, ESPN has attempted to abbreviate it late in the year. Or at least thats how it felt to me.

Decreased viewership is the result of many things, I would be interested to hear about other sports ratings as well but all I ever seem to hear about is NASCAR's. No one talks about any other sport's viewership.

Back to basics. From NASCAR and from the networks will go a long way. This is my soapbox I will stand on as long as it takes.

stricklinfan82 said...

So, the TV networks are looking for ways to cut costs and not negatively affect the viewers huh?

Sounds like an opportune time to once again beat the "get rid of all the bells and whistles drum".

From my outsider's perspective here are some elements that could be removed that would actually improve my personal viewing experience. I'm no expert in race production costs, but even if some of these don't actually save money I feel they would be worth implementing anyway:

- No more pit studios

Speed's Truck Series coverage, ESPN's stand-alone Nationwide coverage, Fox's Monday rain out coverage, and ESPN and TNN's pre-2001 coverage all worked just fine without a pit studio and all the extra personnel needed to fill it. In my opinion those respective pre-race shows were just fine with either a pit reporter hosting along pit road or the booth guys hosting the show from upstairs. In addition, I think the race coverage is actually better without the hourly "we now interrupt the live race to get some other people's perspectives on what we've seen to this point" segments.

- Fewer/No Gimmick Cameras

I personally prefer normal, wide camera angles that encompass as many cars at one time as possible. I'm not a fan of the gimmicks like "cable cam" or "Digger Cam", or of the live roof cam, driver cam, bumper cam angles that cover up the racing on the track.

- No More "NASCAR 101" Tools Like Tech Centers and Cutaway Cars

In my opinion NASCAR television was much more enjoyable to watch without all the countless live racing interruptions that occur today to illustrate "NASCAR 101" looks at what every piece on a racecar looks like. Throwing these gimmicks out would mean more time watching racecars racing live on the TV screen and less money spent by the networks. Win-win situation from this fan's viewpoint.

- No More Draft Tracks

Even if it costs a penny or costs nothing at all, Draft Tracks should be done away with. Period.

- No More Pre-Taped Videos and Video Bumpers

I'm not a fan of all those videos ESPN probably spends countless hours producing as part of their "ignore the track" initiative and I'm not a fan of all those video bumper pieces Fox and ESPN shoot to use as part of their coverage.

There are two elements that I fear might be at the top of the TV networks' lists of cost-cutting measures that should NEVER be done, in my opinion:

- Please DO NOT cut down on the number of practice and qualifying sessions aired on TV

- Please DO NOT cut down on the amount of "normal" angle cameras used to televise the races

If either of these latter two steps are taken before any of the others I listed above I will be extremely disappointed.

Dot said...

How long have we been saying that less is more? I agree with the other posters. I said recently that Ray E could replace Brad, Rusty and Tim B and save ESPN money.

Remember back in the olden days (1990s) when they didn't even have a constant ticker? We watched just fine. Now with the leaderboards on the computer, we don't even need that. In fact, couldn't someone have a virtual car we could reference during the race to see what part/piece is broken? Or how it works? We could look at our leisure and not miss green flag racing.

I just hope that the TV partners aren't paying some focus group to figure this out. All they have to do is come to TDP and implement our ideas at no charge.

Richard in N.C. said...

I find it interesting that the push for cost-cutting appears to be coming from FOX, and ESPN is just willing to share in any benefits - even though I believe FOX's ratings have generally been higher than ESPN's. My understanding is that ESPN has a second, much more substantial revenue source than FOX - monthly carry charges from the cable companies. Thus, if I am correct, ESPN is not as reliant on advertising as FOX is. The current economic situation has not kept ESPN from buying the rights to the British Open golf tournament and to the BCS football games.

In light of the current economy, maybe ESPN could pledge to not increase its cable carry charges for at least the next 2 or 3 years - and to eliminate a large number of its ever-increasing stable of NFL so-called experts.

JD, would it be possible to have more cameras operated robotically? If so, could that result in any meaningful savings?

Jimbacca said...

The coverage itself has turned me off. I remember when I was a kid hunting for what channel it was on. When I got cable and got espn it was godsend because they would cover the events not run on tv.

Now I don't really hunt it down. The prerace show on speed is too damn long.
The tech parts during the race are treating us like we are idiots. Every week it seems like its a brand new week and they have to reteach everything.
Digger cam was completely pointless. What new thing did it show?
The new cars are boring. Yes they are. I disagree with most. I think the new dodge COT looks more like a dodge then the old car does. The wing looks more fast and furious then anything else.
The races are either too long or boring. I could leave for a few hours and come back to the race still running.
Races I never miss, Darlington, Bristol. Interesting not too long. The 'cookie cutters' are just too long for the lack of action you get.
To reduce overhead. Watch the truck races. Copy that. You should be good to go. One or two thinks of tech like they do. Nascar popularity was on the rice with the standard 2-3 announcers, a few pit reporters, minor tech. All the bells and whistles turn away the long time fan as its seems like you are treating us like idiots. New fans.. Really are there any to justify treating all the long time ones as idiots?
BTW did I mention watch the trucks to see how to save cash and present a race?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Richard,

The NASCAR shoots are so big that the level of sharing equipment is going to be the key.

Right now, each network uses their own production trucks and really only shares common resources.

It should be interesting to see if Fox or ESPN come around to using more of a Truck Series model for 2009.

JD

Newracefan said...

SLFan said it best, I would also like to see a decrease in the incar camera's focused on the driver however I believe for the most part they are sponsered so I'm thinking we may get more not less. ESPN needs less voices during races. The hotel etc is not necessary but I do like the occasional visit, just put them in a something generic that they can all share and use it sparingly. Shrink the prerace to 30 minutes (I'm OK with even less) and RaceDay to 90 (this let's us keep the best part Wendy's grid walk, no offense to Hermie but it was fun watching her walking along commenting and talking I felt like I was there). Let's just hope what gets gone are the right things

Anonymous said...

I have to echo the point Richard makes regarding ESPN buying weekend rights to British Open Golf and the practically the entire BCS for cable.

When the shift of Monday Night Football to cable succeeded financially for Disney, the cat came out of the bag and it will not come back in. This makes the statement by Smith that Nascar likes the cable vs. network mix rather prolematic.

Oh, and another awful idea - networks do not read this. After the DTV transition is completed, we will have a new dumping ground for misplaced Nascar programming - alternate subchannels on the ABC and Fox affiliates.

Vicky D said...

Maybe Nascar needs to sell the company jet and travel to the races in commercial jets sitting in the coach section. Pare down the race weekend by a day too. Let's see how much that can save.

Adam T. Martin said...

Hopefully, this will cause the cameras to be placed in useful areas instead of gimmick shots.

Also, please cut out the tech center and cut away car along with the pit studios.

Gymmie said...

@Nan--Oh I know...they rarely use the cameras for anything useful! We're looking up people's noses and in some cases for some odd reason looking at the side of THEIR car which is showing us NADA! I'm still shaking my head after that race that we were sitting there looking at the side of Jeff G.'s car missing all the action. I know what his car looks like, I want to know what's going on AROUND, IN FRONT and BEHIND him. And *no* not from a itty bitty camera view....use one of those 60 cameras y'all have out there!

@Vicky--even before this mess some have advocated that. Use the time at the track wisely. Do a one day show - get the quals/practice in and then race...at max 2 day show. The majority of the tracks, the haulers are there on Thursday before *anything* is going on. Depending on the track, the Cup boyz barely touch the track on Friday and N'wide are lucky to get a few laps in on Friday otherwise it's all on Saturday. And we barely know what the Pick 'em Ups do because short of a few races we never see a thing from them until it's race time :(. And now that testing is killed for the most part maybe the can hang around the next day and test then.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD, Wouldn't the real opportunity come from sharing production personnel rather than facilities, since presumably the facilities are sunk costs - i.e., already paid for, unless they are leased. In any event, wouldn't cost saving through sharing inevitably mean NASCAR actually handling more of the production, since I doubt either FOX or ESPN would be willing to trust the other.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD, Could you give a brief description of what the "trailers" are in the picture & whether they are all ESPN or for 2 networks?

Have you ever experienced something like this sharing?
Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Nan...have to disagree with you on the in-car camera. When it is showing the driver, it is very useful to see them working the wheel in the car. How they are fighting the circumstances with the hands.

Tom said...

I'm thinkin' this isn't such a bad thing. Strick covered most of the salient points. I don't know how many cameras ESPN used in 1987, but it seemed we didn't miss much! More wide angle shots of the whole field, the cameras are better and most of us have bigger TV's so this looks really good. Get rid of infield studios and drop pre race coverage in favor of a more thorough post. Pick the use of technical displays very carefully, although outright elimination wouldn't hurt my feelings much. Try to develop a consistant look between networks in terms of how important stuff (Checkered flag) is shown. I really think some of this could ultimately be to our advantage if paring down the bells and whistles help them save money, and us saving our sanity!

Tom
Inverness, FL

3KillerBs said...

Count me as another vote for taking the Truck Series broadcasts as a model.

Yes, it might be desirable to have a couple extra personnel for Cup races because of the distance -- if only to allow people a moment to run to the bathroom and to drink some water off camera -- but surely they don't need a big rolling studio with so many gimics AND some kind of car model both?

Fewer bells and whistles, more live racing. It works great for the truck series; why shouldn't it work for Cup and Nationwide?

I could do without whichever camera is used to give those tight shots off the wall where all you can see is a blur of color. Yes, it helps create the feel of being there and the occasional wreck-takes-out-camera shot is dramatic, but it adds no useful information about what's happening.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Ruchard,

At the bottom of the picture you can see the office trailer for meetings and admin purposes. The ESPN logo on the awning shows the production library where all kinds of stuff is stored.

The sideways truck is the ESPN Tech Center, which may be just unloading. The CAT truck is the generator for power.

The three multi-colored trailers in the front row are the ESPN units. The sideways trailer behind them with the antennas is the in-car camera truck from Broadcast Sports.

Also in that group are the DirecTV Hot Pass trailer and the other production units for the other TV networks. You can see four additional office trailers, three satellite uplink trucks and the catering tent at the far end of the compound.

Richard, I think all the points that you mentioned are going to be up for discussion depending on what happends with ad revenue. The reason Fox is taking the lead on this is because they are the first Sprint Cup partner on the air.

JD

Anonymous said...

Here is the cost cutting answer for ESPN.

They spent a HALF BILLION DOLLARS for the BCS. A lot of that money, my friends, is gonna come out of the NASCAR production budget. Once the BCS gets on ESPN, say hello to seriously cut back coverage. ESPN will again treat NASCAR like PASTCAR, and you can bet they won't be bidding to renew their tv deal. Heck, they'll be looking to exercise an "out" clause, if they have one.
Roone's guy

Anonymous said...

How many guys do we need in pre-race talking about stuff, get rid of Brad, Rusty and Ray for ESPN. Do we need to Tim showing us dumb stuff. Get back to racing and get Dr. Punch back in a office or on pit road.

bobby dee said...

The "hotel" guys can all stay home. Their opinions are so canned. I and my g/f like Tim Brewer. He explains things about the car that fans do not know. Digger & wall cams are ok, they give a different prospective. 12 cars with 4 cameras each are interesting only when a wreck occurs. Now for my rant. I hate in car race reporter. Thanks.

Broomfield, Colorado said...

Did anyone notice that NASCAR said, "We are happy with the way the races are presented."? WTF? They should drug test the executives in NASCAR, as well as the network executives.
Again, I have to agree with earlier posters: SPEED channel delivers the goods EVERY WEEK. And the fact that NASCAR won't award them the rights to broadcast every Cup event or Nationwide race. Once again, the fans get screwed, while Brian France and the network brain trusts ignore the obvious problem: THEM.

Ken said...

I have a simple suggestion. Show us the race as we would see it if we were there and give us the same commentary we would have if we were listening on the radio. If I recall correctly, that is pretty much the way it was done when they started. Most of the gadgets and toys they now use have not enhanced the telecast at all. KISS-keep it simple stupid.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand these "hard costs" you're talking about, Jon. What costs are associated with Jerry's Tech Garage? It's already built and paid for. It's not like they really need to add anything new to it each week if it's already a complete package. And the other stages are bought and paid for.

I agree with others. We don't need 90-minute or 60-minute pre-shows. I don't watch them AT ALL because they are so long, boring and redundant. I couldn't care less about the last movie a driver saw or what his favorite color is. Give me a break. We can cut that crap and save a bundle.

Anonymous said...

Remember the simple, clean broadcasts ESPN had when Bob Jenkins, Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett broadcast the races. It was a simpler time...

Anonymous said...

Mr. Daly-
Your picture must be from Speed Weeks, since the SPEED trucks are not pictured. The SPEED trucks park inside the track in February, so the compound is usually bigger than is pictured here.

Anonymous said...

West Coast Diane said:

Agree with most all of what has been said.

1) TRUCKS, TRUCKS, TRUCKS..watch over and over until all the networks get it.

2) Show/comment on ALL cars. Maybe there would be more sponsorship money if the sponsors actually thought they would get on TV.

3) Show all practice, qualifying using TIVO style so all cars are seen. Race fans like watching all the cars and see Number 2.

4) Agree with 3 in the booth and ample pit reporters to cover more cars.

Lets cross our fingers that out of the financial crisis we get something postive...better race coverage.

chase said...

Interesting responses! How about ESPN ridding themselves of Dr. P - replacing him with AB and totally ridding themselves of Rusty and Brad and move Punch in their place - cut down on the seemingly never-ending pre-race show; FOX can do without Digger and any of the other non-important gimmicks but keep the announcers. Majorshouse has a point: Speed's motto: less is definitely more! Better direction, as Sophia said, is key and must be instituted. Ah, I keep thinking of all the money ESPN can save ridding themselves of most of their on-air 'talent' - so they can become serious about their coverage! Thanks John!

Zieke said...

I see it's been said here, but some of the announcers are not needed. These booths have become really crowded, with announcers stepping all over each other. Two booth people is enough. So Fox could start with getting rid of Waltrip. (the hot air savings alone would be well worth it) So if the networks are really serious about saving money, start at the top.

Phil said...

bobby dee said...
The "hotel" guys can all stay home.

I agree, but home can be back at a TV studio close to where the on-air talent lives. The savings in fuel costs from hauling all that studio equipment plus the travel, lodging & meals expenses of a multitude of on-air talent would be significant. All of this great technology at our disposal should be taken advantage of until things turn around and get better again.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD, Thank you for the tour.

Len said...

Lean & mean... start the show with the Invocation and Nat'l Anthem. Give us the starting line-up while they do the warm-up laps. Then show THE RACE - what's happening on the track and in the pits. Split-screen the commercials, cut the BS and the blah-blah-blah, do away with all the fancy stuff and fancy people; and get back to racing!

Penny said...

Just like everyone else said. Watch the Truck races on SPEED and learn from the. Plain and simple works best. Sure wish SPEED could do all the races.
Zieke, you said it best, sure could do without the Waltrips hot air.
Please take a lesson from SPEED.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- Do you think it would be feasible for ESPN to leave the Tech Center in Charlotte or Conn. and access it by remote during a race when/if needed?

Do you think the curent economy and drive for cost-cutting might make FOX and/or ESPN more receptive to using split-screening for commercials during NASCAR races?

Gymmie said...

@anon 11.24 11:43p--no one is against in car cameras as a whole...just the constant use of them when they're not showing us a thing. If they're showing an accident or in your example the driver is complaining of a tight car and they're showing us how they're fighting to keep the car from knocking down the fence every corner as they're showing us something *informative* that's fine. I don't need to see them picking their nose or getting a drink during the caution. And I don't need to see for 50 laps the view out of the rear of his car.

Yes shorten the "pre-race"...It can be done in 15 minutes. That will be more than enough time to let us know of any last minute changes (i.e. noticed something leaking before the race and had to chance something causing them to go to the back), who might be a serious threat for the win, etc. Let us know of any possible weather issues that might cause the race to go into OT and get the Invocation/Anthem in and get those engines started! ESPN can add another show to their line up NA$CAR Videos to show their pre-packaged stuff since they don't understand the proper timing concept.

Anonymous said...

Real simple go back to the way ESPN did it in the 80's and show the race not the gimmicks. We all tune in to watch the race not all the other garbage. All the cars on the track racing not just 1 or 2. Stop treating the viewer like he is a Moron or one that has to be entertained by a clown in the booth talking nonsense. We don't need the same facts week after week. Just show us the race.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for "less is more" if it keeps Larry Mac from doing magic tricks during green flag racing.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 11:13AM,

You are correct!

Richard,

Anything is possible, it just must accomplish the goals of the network.

JD