Tuesday, January 6, 2009
MLB Network Leaves NASCAR Another Step Behind
It is already on-the-air in preview mode, but it will be January 1, 2009 when the Major League Baseball TV Network officially debuts in homes across America.
The MLB Network took over the old MSNBC studios located at 40 Hartz Way in Secaucus, NJ. One look at Google Maps tells the tale of just how close to New York City that location really is. Eventually, the network will move into NYC proper.
Everything on the MLB Network is going to be in true High Definition. The league is doing things in a first class manner, following in the footsteps of the NFL Network in terms of on-air technology.
The executives are experienced, the on-air announcers are familiar to baseball fans and the programming line-up is diverse. The content pieces of this TV puzzle are in place.
Rolling this project out in an orderly manner with cooperation from the major cable TV companies has enabled the MLB Network to sign-on with the largest first day viewership in cable TV history.
While the official number has not yet been announced, it is expected that this brand-new network will be available in over 50 million homes from day one.
Like many pro sports, MLB has quietly been extending the length of the overall season. Spring training games start the last week of February and many are now televised. The regular season begins the first week of April and in 2009 for the first time the World Series will end in November.
NASCAR is racing in February and continues to do so until the third week of November. With the post-season reviews and the three banquets, the season spills-over into December. Even with official testing eliminated for 2009, January is a frenzy at the race shops as teams prepare for the season.
Where NASCAR is concerned, the entire year is packed full of some kind of activity either on the track or behind the scenes.
As the MLB Network takes to the air, eyes turn to NASCAR with the same question TDP has been asking for the past two years.
Where is the NASCAR TV Network?
The original NASCAR deal with the Fox Cable Networks group was for Speedvision to become a full-time NASCAR channel. Fox and NASCAR partnered-up to buy a TV production company they called NASCAR Images to produce programs for the new network.
Fox then moved the entire Speedvision network from Stamford, CT to Charlotte, NC and changed the name to SPEED. Everything was in place. Needless to say, things did not go according to plan.
Now, several years later, the story is radically different. SPEED continues to be the TV network for NASCAR's on-location weekend "support" programming and the Camping World Truck Series. The last remaining snippet of regular weekday programming is This Week In NASCAR on Monday nights.
Fox agreed to surrender the company's interest in NASCAR Images and was bought-out by NASCAR. The new company is now called The NASCAR Media Group. SPEED then changed leadership and moved in an entirely different direction where weekday programming was concerned.
Pinks, Unique Whips, Living the Low Life, Wrecked and many other "lifestyle reality" series sprang to life under the leadership of SPEED's VP of Programming Bob Ecker.
SPEED was interested in creating and then owning original TV shows. That was not possible where NASCAR was concerned. Like most pro sports, NASCAR retains the rights to the actual event footage. So, SPEED morphed into the current two-headed monster viewers see today.
During the NASCAR season on Friday, Saturday and Sunday SPEED is all about racing. On Monday through Thursday with one small exception, SPEED's primetime line-up is battling it out with A&E, truTV and Discovery for reality programming success.
Once united by shared ownership and strategic TV goals, SPEED and the NASCAR Media Group are now just two rival fraternities sharing NASCAR content in an uneasy truce.
SPEED is busy allocating significant financial resources to original lifestyle programming to build the network's library of content for a wide variety of purposes. SPEED wants "their" programs to be available on your cell phone, PDA and laptop.
Meanwhile, The NASCAR Media Group has no direct on-air capability to expand the NASCAR presence on TV. Think of this TV production company as a fantastic stereo system loaded with great tunes but without any speakers. You can turn it on and crank it up but there is no way to hear the music.
The solution to this problem might have been to simply put The NASCAR Media Group's vast collection of programs on an Internet site and then build-up an iTV network like Hulu. Bypass cable TV entirely and go right to the Internet with the video.
Unfortunately, NASCAR gave the online rights to all NASCAR content to the Turner Interactive Group in Atlanta, GA. That company pays NASCAR a hefty sum to run the NASCAR.com website as a "third party."
The Turner Interactive Group alone controls the sport's online image, official information and even fan interaction. NASCAR itself does not even have a public email address. In January of 2008, NASCAR executives extended the Turner deal through the year 2014.
In reality, there is truly only one solution to solving many of the current problems plaguing the sport. That is the creation of a cable television network to grow the NASCAR brand and present the sport as much more than a weekend pastime.
Having this media platform would open the door to an endless diversity of programming from original series to daily news. Groups like the Nationwide and Camping World Truck teams would finally get some TV exposure other than actual racing.
A NASCAR TV network would also allow the regional racing series a home where fans could begin to understand the different levels of NASCAR racing nationwide and interact with local and regional drivers and teams. Imagine that, finding out that NASCAR races in your area on a regular basis.
Both ISC and SMI tracks would be big beneficiaries of a full-time TV network. Just like the regional sports TV networks feature local college and pro teams, TV programs featuring the ISC and SMI tracks would offer a tremendous variety of regional subject matter.
These facilities host all kinds of racing series. Events like car shows and many other unique activities could also be exposed to motorsports fans through a NASCAR TV network. Needless to say, ticket sales for the NASCAR events could also be directly influenced.
Once again in 2009, NASCAR is poised to be represented on TV by third parties. ESPN, SPEED, TNT and Fox all have their own slant on presenting NASCAR news and approach the sport in general from completely different angles.
The NASCAR "financial pie" has been sliced-and-diced into profitable pieces with the single-minded goal of deriving the most potential revenue for the sport.
Left behind in the "money frenzy" has been the strategic partnership between NASCAR and its fans.
With Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association now having full-time dedicated TV networks there is little doubt that NASCAR must make such an investment for the good of the sport.
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