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 NASCAR.com 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.
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