Sunday, October 3, 2010
The Only TV Ratings Solution Is Change (Repost)
Update: Reposting for some Twitter users who have never read the TDP columns on this topic. There have been many over the last four years.
We have talked for over a month about what would happen this season when NASCAR finally went head-to-head with the early Sunday NFL game at 1PM Eastern Time. Well, the results are in and they are not pretty.
ESPN’s telecast of the Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 19, earned a final national US household coverage rating of 2.3, averaging 3.6 million viewers. Last year’s telecast aired on ABC and earned a final U.S. 3.2 rating. (Thanks to Jayski.com for the information.)
This is the lowest-rated Chase telecast ever and that resulted in a spirited conversation on Tuesday between journalists, bloggers and fans on Twitter. With good racing at Loudon on a beautiful day, the question is what happened to the TV viewers?
As we all know, the answer is the NFL. Leading up to Sunday, we asked on this blog, on Facebook and on Twitter how many people were going to only watch NASCAR. The response was very few. Some hardcore fans put racing first, but many had an NFL game involving their favorite team and would be watching football and checking on NASCAR.
The bottom line is that the NFL TV partners did a better job. They put compelling telecasts on the air that contained two key ingredients that have dogged ESPN during the Chase for four years now. The NFL action is never interrupted by a commercial break during the three hour telecast and the focus of the coverage is the game itself.
Here are a couple of fan comments from Sunday only minutes after the race started:
"Why do they go to commercial after the first 8 laps and come back and then go back to commercial?" (from Gymmie)
"Commercial overload is slowly bleeding the life out of televising this sport. It is slowly killing the goose that lays the golden egg." (from Bevo)
"Well, if this becomes a commercial fest I don't think that the remaining NASCAR fans watching will have a problem changing the channel to an NFL football game." (from Anonfan)
Veteran fans already know the issue at hand. Cable and broadcast TV networks use commercials to drive revenue in NASCAR because there is no structure to the telecast. Sports like NFL football actually come with an attached commercial format. When the clock will stop for commercials and how long those breaks will be is coordinated in advance.
The bottom line for the NFL is to make sure that a commercial never runs during play. NASCAR is the exact opposite. Green flag exciting racing may draw the fans, but seeing only four minutes of action before going to yet another two or even three minute commercial break has only one effect. Viewers reach for the remote.
It's a bit ironic that the NASCAR on ESPN production team has dedicated themselves this season to utilizing a split-screen effect to show two sets of cars racing for position. Even on the short tracks, these two video boxes show viewers two stories playing out simultaneously.
The answer to solving the commercial dilemma is to give fans what they are missing. Utilize the same split-screen style to show the commercial break in the bigger video box and keep the racing action in a smaller second box.
This solution kills two birds with one stone. Fans will not reach for the remote because the racing action is still on the screen. Secondly, sponsors can be assured that their commercials have a much better chance of being viewed rather than having the remaining NASCAR fans performing the "NFL two minute check-in" at every commercial break.
The second topic today is storytelling. While the NFL simply tells the story of the game, ESPN has to juggle the story of the Chase and the story of the race. It has never worked out. Memories of last season's Jimmie Johnson lovefest are still fresh in many minds. It was a disaster.
Click here to read TV's Rock And A Hard Place published last November here on TDP. You may enjoy reading the fan comments as well. ESPN has tried to put the Chase before the race since 2007. Something has to give.
Sure, ESPN had twelve announcers in Loudon. Sure, ESPN played recorded driver interviews during green flag racing. Sure, ESPN only updated Chasers. Sure, ESPN struggled with wave arounds, lucky dogs and restart orders. The good news is, those things can be fixed!
Fundamentally changing the commercial presentation and refocusing the Chase telecasts on the races themselves is something that has to come from ESPN with help from NASCAR. It's simply time for change. There is nothing else left to do.
We invite your comments on this topic. To share your opinion, 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.