Monday, July 19, 2010

NASCAR's Online Dilemma

The numbers this summer told the tale. Use of the RaceBuddy online application offered by Turner Sports through the website was off the charts. What started out as four camera angles and some team scanners has become a phenomenon.

Each of the six TNT summer telecasts offered fans an opportunity to expand their view of the actual races. One in-car camera, a fulltime view of pit road, a dedicated camera following the best battles on the track and a final stream switching between aerial views, speed shots and pit reporter updates comprised the RaceBuddy offering.

Then, the Turner guys added a new twist. In the past, RaceBuddy was something you watched online in addition to the race on TV. It was something extra. This year, the actual call of the race from the TNT announcers was added. This meant that for the first time in the history of NASCAR, fans could turn off the TV and watch the entire race with commentary online.

As the six races began to slide by, fans using RaceBuddy alone to watch the race discovered another huge bonus. No commercial breaks. While short sponsor messages popped-up when fans changed video streams, the TV ads did not travel to the online world. It was now easy to watch an entire race from a brand new perspective.

Wherever a laptop computer could travel, RaceBuddy traveled with it. Fans wrote that their world changed due to the fact they no longer had to be positioned in front of the TV set for four hours. Suddenly, laptops were open on Sunday in the workplace, at the pool and on the road.

One hilarious email was from a police officer who said most of his guys were watching NASCAR on the laptops in the patrol cars. People kept walking up and asking them how they were doing that. NASCAR content was now able to travel away from the TV set and out into the world.

In less than two weeks, ESPN begins coverage of the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races of the season. Currently, there are no plans to offer any online support for these telecasts. Despite the fact that the technology exists, neither Turner, NASCAR or ESPN is making RaceBuddy a priority down the stretch.

The only option that exists is to make the actual feed of the ESPN races available online. ESPN3 is an online service recently launched to provide additional opportunities for sports fans to see content when they are away from the TV. Even as a simple first step, streaming the ESPN races online with commercials would allow fans to choose to watch online or on TV.

The bottom line is that NASCAR has three Sprint Cup Series TV partners that each have their own network agenda. FOX's David Hill said there would be no streaming of races to protect the local FOX TV stations. That makes little sense, as those who watch online are mostly physically away from a TV. They simply want an alternative.

As most TDP readers know, NASCAR sold the online rights to the sport to Turner Interactive years ago in a contract that has a long time to run. Nothing can happen without Turner's blessing and that normally involves money changing hands. The results have been no online video applications other than RaceBuddy for the past four years.

In less than two weeks, NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series will begin the stretch run. These final seventeen races will be less of a valuable product, especially to younger fans, without any online streaming. Simply turning off the online availability after giving it to fans for the past six races is not going to have a good result.

Should anything change on this issue before Indy, we will pass the information along. In the meantime, we welcome your opinion about the online issues confronting the sport and your use of RaceBuddy over the last six races.

To add your comments, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


Dot said...

I so enjoyed RB during the race and especially during commls.

I didn't enjoy it so much for the post race coverage. That really belongs on TV, imo. Could it be that my age is showing? I know those w/laptops and other mobile devices like everything on the go. Glad for them but, there are people like Dan (roommate) who just watch racing on TV.

It's probably just as well that BSPN doesn't have their version of RB. They'd find some way to mess (really wanted to use a much stronger word) it up. I have no faith in BSPN when it comes to racing.

GinaV24 said...

NASCAR NEEDS an online application to help keep more NASCAR fans interested -- have laptop, will travel.

Personally I use trackpass every week, RaceBuddy when it's available, Twitter and FB to follow racing. I'd like to watch the race using only the TV, but NASCAR needs to provide a better broadcast for me to do that.

I understand the money issue regarding rights, but NASCAR needs to step up here and decide. BZF is supposed to be this really smart businessman -- haven't seen much demonstration of THAT.

David Hill may think he's protecting Fox's local broadcasts, but after the mess it was this year, I won't be watching Fox next year unless there are HUGE changes made before next season. I'm still on DW overload and I don't really expect that to change through ESPN's stint or the off season. I'm not sure how much ESPN coverage I will watch unless they impress the heck out of me right away.

OSBORNK said...

If ESPN bought the rights to present the races online, you can rest assured that it would be as filled with commercials as the TV broadcasts. They would have to earn money to pay for the online rights and to produce the product. I suspect the online product would be a simple streaming of what we see on TV.

TexasRaceLady said...

All of this online stuff is fine -- for those who have access to broadband/wi-fi.

There are still a lot of the country--me, included-- who don't have that access.

Shoot, GPS doesn't even know where I am.

We're left out.

JohnP said...

I loved Racebuddy this year, it was my first experience. But I will say I used it different then described here. I had the laptop connected to the widescreen tv and using the source button I switched between TNT's cable broadcast and TNT's online broadcast on a whim. It was a nice choice and didn't have to look at a little laptop computer, but my real tv. What RB gives is a choice to each fan on how they want to see their coverage. I suspect advertisers will eventually shut RB down, OR we will see a lot more advertising on RB. Afterall, someone has to pay the bill.

Zieke said...

C'mon RB. Please be there when Fox starts their shilling next year.
Thank you...

Anonymous said...

I'll miss RaceBuddy :(.

It's been great to be able to use it during commercials and still see what's going on or to follow your driver :). Only negative is that it seemed the Leaderboard wasn't always accurate. But other than that I really enjoyed the changes.

I did like the addition of the broadcast that way as you stated those who are working or otherwise aren't near their TV as well can still hear the commentary and know what was going on inbetween Jim's updates :).

I agree Dot :(.

Anonymous said...

One thing they should be working on is an iPad/iPhone app - even if it just for TrackPass, with a Twitter feed added.

Anonymous said...

I think you missed something in your article: The internet turns "analog dollars into digital dimes."

To your credit, you sort of touched on it when you mentioned the lack of commercials, but you should have addressed the long term impact to revenues from broadcasting races online.

Adam Wood said...

I think a major problem with NASCAR and it's declining TV ratings and sponsorship issues comes with the fact that this season, only 15 races will be aired on a free over-the-air channel. It wasn't that long ago that 23 or more races a year were aired on free TV. Especially in this economy, people just can't afford to pay $80-$100 a month for their NASCAR coverage. On DISH, you have to be at the Top 200 package to get all the channels that races air on, and that starts at $50 a month. By the time I'm done with HD and local channels, I'm up to $85 a month. Just because the first 12 races are on FOX doesn't mean that people are going to race out to update their systems to watch the rest of the races.

This is where the internet becomes helpful, but there is still the dilemma of price. You are still talking up to $150 a month for internet in some places for the speed needed for Racebuddy. Plus is only available for certain internet providers.

A lot of this comes down to money. NASCAR is expensive to race in, and apparently that expands to broadcasting as well with multi-billion dollar TV contracts. With the current contracts and the market now there for online NASCAR broadcasting, there is sure to be a fight with money for online broadcasting rights. This will lead to charging for RaceBuddy and the insertion of commercials. So it's a lose-lose situation.

The ONLY solution I see is negotiating the contracts the way FIFA did-no commercials during on track green flag action. I would love to see all the races on free over-the-air TV. Let's get NBC and CBS back into NASCAR broadcasting. If we can get the TNT people together, that would be even better. It might involve switching some races around schedule wise, but I think it can be done. Plus networks would be taking a huge risk, since their advertising revenue would be based on caution flags. But if ESPN could air 65 matches with no commercials, then I think they could do several races on ABC with no ads.

Vince said...

I'm a big fan of RaceBuddy. It does have it's problems though and needs tweeking. I'd like to see them have one of the views dedicated to the live feed that everybody else is seeing on tv. I had to drop my cable and RB was my only way to view the races. It was frustrating when they'd have a wreck or something and it wouldn't be shown on RB, but we'd get the audio of Kyle and Wally talking about it. Also the leaderboard never worked very well for me. It would lock up 3 or 4 times a race and didn't work at all for me the last race.

I'd like to know who was responsible for signing a long term contract with Turner for Nascar's online content. I'm retired after working in the technical side of the computer business for over 30 years. I know how fast technology changes and you never, never sign a long term contract for anything technical. Because the technology changes too fast and if you don't have your contract worded in such a way that keeps you up with current technology, you're screwed. Who ever is responsible for a long term online contract that basically locks out everybody but Turner properties, should have been fired. Extremely poor forsight and planning by Nascar.

A little off topic, I got accepted to be on the Nascar Fan Council today. Yay!!

DexterMorgan said...

I loved RaceBuddy. I would gladly watch that than the pirated sites. But now that ESPN is back, ill watch it on all the streaming sites. I refuse to give these guys one of my ratings points and would rather be a stat on an online channel.

Anonymous said...

Sprint will fight any "iPad/iPhone app" to the death...

longtimeracefan said...

Race Buddy, with its flaws, was absolutely, the best overall coverage available to NASCAR fans for the past six Cup races this season. Hands down, 100 percent, for sure. No subjective booth voices, no annoying commercials, some decent online reporting and cool post race interviews.

Its the future, its now, its great.

NEED. MORE. Please!


Donna in FL said...

We love RaceBuddy for its portability as well as uninterrupted coverage. After WideOpen, its the best there is in terms of viewing choice. Watching a race from the boat or by the pool is just tops for us! But it appears TNT sacrificed its regular TV broadcast to pay for these great things. That isn't right.

Hate to be going back to "conventional" TV coverage. But I agree that the TV product, no matter the channel, still needs to be primary & the best they can offer, our online toys are great BUT they shouldn't be necessary to have a wonderful race experience!!

Anonymous said...

I liked race buddy because:

1) Since I don't buy cable it was the only way to see the races covered by TNT.

2) The nasty commercials were gone. I actually think a lot of the commercials on over-the-air coverage are fun and interesting, but most of the TNT ads I saw (as I tried another streaming source the first race) were not the kind of content I want my 6-and-under kids seeing.

I'd love to see an online deal where all the races not available over the air are available online. I would be absolutely fine with (family friendly) commercials too.

Orrymain said...

Race Buddy is the highlight of the season. I'm sick and tired of missing things on TV. They don't get it right. We have to see so much in replays.

I hope TNT doesn't stand in the way of expansion by being greedy. I hope Fox and ESPN wake up and let NASCAR evolve. Frankly, I'm about ready to turn them off. In truth, I'm turning down the volume a lot because I'm tired of their one-track conversations.

If I could afford NASCAR's Trackpass, I would, but sadly, I can't. I did it one year and was so pleased with fake automation based on GPS that I did rely more on it than TV. After all, I could follow who I wanted and not the constant Jimmie Johnson fan club junk.

Bill H said...

For the past 9 years I paid for the scanner online and would sit and listen to my favorite drivers while watching the race with my family. This year I decided not to spend the $60+ for it and have noticed I don't watch the races very often. I will dvr the night races and maybe watch the last few laps if I read online that the end was exciting. The day races I may watch, or have on in the background, or may again just dvr it.

Without the scanner I don't have any real reason to watch for 2 - 3 hours hoping for a glimpse of my favorite drivers or a little racing action.

As for the Nationwide and Truck races, I haven't watched more than 20 laps of these this year. In the Nationwide I got tired last year of watching the same 2 or 3 people stink up / win the race, and the Trucks, not sure what it is but Speed is doing something different in the broadcast this year it seems that is turning me off from watching it.

Bill H - NY

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed RB, but missed seeing the replays while the commentators were discussing them. Is there any prospect of paying a subscription to watch on the Internet? I pay $14.95 a month for a Setanta TV subscription that allows me to watch all the English soccer games they show. I'd pay something like that to watch my other favourite sport.

ted406 said...

One last note here. In my household, with a minimum of two devoted race enthusiasts, we have gone through this sequence:

We watched every race on Fox.
We watched every race on TNT and followed the added info and views on the laptop with wifi.
We are now watching NONE of the races and have no coverage online...we don't get ESPN because of the expense.

We understand the importance of advertising dollars and would be happy to wait through occasional ads online. But it appears to be ESPN or nothing, and we will be going with nothing.

Addendum: for the first time, we have NO radio broadcast either. Look at the map, find Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill NC, and tell me if you would expect enough fans in the area to support radio coverage. At this rate, there may be lots of empty seats and unstickered quarterpanels in the near future.