Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NASCAR's Silent Online Showdown


With only one race to go in the Sprint Cup Series for 2010, the championship has yet to be decided. It's a great scenario for a sport that has been taking some hits in popularity this season.

Behind the scenes there is another big issue that is a long way from being settled. Moments after the Sunday race from Phoenix began, there suddenly appeared a new option on the NASCAR.com website. It was a link that simply said "Watch Live."

A simple click of the mouse produced a streaming version of the live ESPN telecast. Without any fee, without any sign-up and without any fanfare the next to last Sprint Cup Series race of 2010 was available to Internet users worldwide.

To understand what is going on, two terms need to be discussed. The first is called convergence. Most of us deal with this every day, even though we might not understand how significant of an issue it is where NASCAR is concerned.

Convergence simply means that different machines can now deliver the same end product. In this case, the television and computer both provided the live ESPN signal of the PIR race. Many folks have smart phones that can provide Internet, email and social media access in a snap. Convergence is all around us.

The second term is "cord cutting." This is the revolution underway to disconnect from cable TV service and access the same content online. In 2010, the number of cable customers opting to end TV service has shaken the major system operators (MSO's) and forced cable TV networks to explore new options for distribution.

"Cord cutting" is thought to be driven by two factors. First, the recent economic downturn has forced a new set of priorities on many families and expensive cable TV service is just not a financial option. Second, the younger generation has been brought up in the land of convergence and has little patience for any video content that is not available on demand through any device.

Most major professional sports have addressed convergence by creating a multi-platform distribution package for live events. Cable TV, home satellite TV, cell phone and Internet streaming is coordinated well in advance and sold or provided as a package.

Needless to say, NASCAR is a sport that screams for Internet distribution. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are filled with all kinds of NASCAR-themed live TV programming provided by the sport's four key television partners ten months of the year.

ESPN holds the over-the-air and cable TV rights to the Chase races, but Turner Sports holds the online rights. As long as ESPN does not make it's own NASCAR coverage available online, Turner cannot stream the races at the NASCAR.com website it operates and undercut the sport's biggest and most valuable TV partner. It's been this way since 2007.

Well, last month in an effort to fight "cord cutting," ESPN made its network signal available online full time to Time Warner Cable (TWC) customers already paying for ESPN cable TV service. That changed everything for Turner and NASCAR.

The moment that the Phoenix race started on ESPN for TWC's online customers, Turner was essentially free to offer streaming as the Internet rights holder for NASCAR content. Once ESPN pushed the first online domino, the rest very quietly began to fall.

At this time, ESPN continues to provide TWC customers with an online network feed. In fact, to further address "cord cutting" issues ESPN is planning to offer paying customers expanded online and even cell phone access to multiple ESPN networks.

ESPN's actions suggest that the Homestead race should be available online through NASCAR.com in much the same manner as the Phoenix event. Hedge that bet with the fact that ESPN must leave the online door open in order for NASCAR.com to walk through.

It seems ironic that with little fanfare and no promotion a small number of hardcore NASCAR fans in the know may wind-up watching the first Sprint Cup Series season finale streamed online in the history of the sport. In a way, it's a microcosm of the season. Something so right that is being handled so incredibly wrong.

We invite you to comment on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

27 comments:

KoHoSo said...

In a way, it's a microcosm of the season. Something so right that is being handled so incredibly wrong.

Everything in NASCAR these days seems to remind me of what Brooklyn Dodgers fans were famous for saying for so long -- Wait 'til next year! -- only to be disappointed over and over again. Maybe they are waiting until next year to promote online streaming to make sure all of the kinks are straightened out or, more likely, that the money is divided up to everyone's satisfaction. Whatever it is, this reminds me of another situation of the more recent past when the major record labels were slow to understand the Internet and have still failed to grasp what their potential customers want all while insisting on forcing them into media options that are no longer wanted or truly viable. Like a lot of issues with NASCAR whether directly related to media or not, they do not have much more time to get their act together or they will completely lose out on most of the whole new generation of potential NASCAR fans and wasted everything the sport so painstakingly gained over the past 30 years.

With this season now almost over, let's all hope that 2011 will be NASCAR fans' version of Brooklyn's 1955.

James said...

If this happens again in Homestead, NASCAR has finally opened its eyes to the "real world". As a forty year fan I am appalled at the stupid decissions that have recently been made by NASCAR. I thank you for your relentless pursuit of the issue. I have become a big fan of yours for your ability to tell the behind the scenes story of how ESPN has destroyed the fan base with its crazy commentary and dizzing camera coverage. Your readers respond and maybe someone really is listening?

yankeegranny said...

I guess I am a dinosaur. I don't have a clue what this article meant to me as a nascar fan. I watch the race with Race View since I can follow my favorite driver is not among the "chosen chase drivers" and is rarely mentioned unless he is in a wreck. Will I be able to click on to this streaming vidio and still watch race view, or will I still have to keep the tv on (muted) so I can see what causes the cautions, etc.?

Anonymous said...

It is time for NASCAR and their sponsors to realize that the fans are sick of paying too much to have nothing but marketing programs delivered to them. Cable sucks as it compresses the signal so much that even HD looks terrible at times. Everywhere there are commercials, on the cars, fans, talking heads, and in the corner of the screen. Cable Companies squeeze even more commercials into the broadcasts and finally the coverage just stinks. I usually flip back to the race only during commercials on the other channels I watch and Have not watched a whole race in 2 years. I enjoy an occasional Formula 1 race event though it has to rain for their to really be a race instead of a parade. Indy cars are no longer available on most cable networks so I enjoy my Blu-ray movies and TV shows. See ya someday Nascar, maybe.

JohnP said...

I've watched more TV from the internet on my 52in TV then ever before. Just plug the laptop into it - wolla. On demand with thousands of shows to choose from. YES - they are re-runs. However - so is what's available on demand from Comcast. What is available online shames cable on demand. If a race was broadcast online with choices of camera angles I'd turn broadcast TV off for the entire race and pick my camera angles. I guess there lies the problem. Fans turning the cruddy broadcasts of Fox and Espn off. (I still like TNT's broadcasts) The internet will eventually take over our cable - just a matter of time. And I say that with full confidence because the internet is wireless. Nascar better catch up. The old dudes smoking cigars in the back room patting themselves on the back is over. Actually, been over.

GinaV24 said...

I am all for this. Although I'm not one of the Gen Xer's, I use my computer and other toys for a lot more than I use my TV these days.

If it's on NASCAR.com and I can stream it, that's great for me - it's about time. I already use trackpass (not raceview, that is way too clunky for me) to follow the race and my driver.

If ESPN is ONLY going to offer it to TWC customers, then I'm going to be annoyed because I have a different cable provider and I'll be left out.

They probably aren't promoting it yet because all of the legal ends are still out there to be tied up.

I like convergence and being able to cut the cord. I thought that was what I would be able to do with satellite radio, but that fell short of my expectations, so I hope that the brave new world of Nascar content being streamed will finally become available.

GinaV24 said...

yankeegranny -- when TNT was letting us see racebuddy during their 6 races, I had both trackpass's pit command and racebuddy up at the same time, so I would assume that it would work the same way, but that is supposition on my part.

Phil said...

Thank goodness it was broadcast live on NASCAR.com. It allowed all the NASCAR fans in the UK to watch the race through a legitimate source when the TV channel that broadcasts the races here fell through with the coverage. If it hadn't have popped up I'd have been watching on Justin.tv.

Anonymous said...

I keep wondering why no one has been going after the 'justins' of this world. I mean, I think it's illegal, is it not? are there just too many to fight?

MRM4 said...

Anon12:37, I have thought the same thing myself for several years.

JohnP, when you hook your laptop to your 52" TV, do you get a crisp and clear picture or one full of macroblocking? That's been my main issue with viewing online content versus paying for cable or satellite.

Some people say wireless is the future, but it is the present. If it wasn't the present, the cell phone providers wouldn't be selling so many phones capable of receiving TV and movies via their phone. NASCAR better get on board now or they will left further behind.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 12:37PM,

The issue of sites like Justin turning around TV feeds online is a small one in the overall scheme of things.

Once the rights get sorted, organizations like NASCAR have to determine whose responsibility it is to become the online police.

While the NASCAR Media Group tried to police NASCAR footage on TV and online, they are light years behind in addressing the real time turn arounds of races online.

Other organizations are chasing Justin.tv around, but they are using the Napster defense. They just make the technology available and it is the responsibility of the user to make sure the content being streamed is not copyrighted.

I would hate to see some NASCAR fan get popped for a big fine for streaming NASCAR races or Sirius.

JD

Anonymous said...

BRING IT ON!!! My cable in Canada won't broadcast the race on TSN1 with the basic cable package unless there is absolutely no other sport they can show in that time slot, but are required to pay for a higher priced package or (pay for the channel) that includes TSN2 which broadcasts the race. I refuse to pay the higher price and will watch the race on the internet. For the most exciting chase in History Canada will broadcast on TSN2. I have been a nascar fan for more than 30 years and never been this dissatisfied with Canadian cable.

anon 12:37 said...

thanks for the explanation. Some lady just got popped for a ridiculous amount in court. A bazillion more than if she'd bought the recordings outright (and she says it was without her knowledge.) They're still fighting it.

So any time, Fox or somebody could decide to go after ISP records and find out you've been watching blacked out games with Justin & his friends and they can come after you. I'd rather not be that guy.

Darcie said...

I no longer subscribe to the NFL package because I can now get it online for a lot less. Same for NHL Center Ice. The NHL offers the same thing, via online streaming, for half the price of the satellite companies. For me, it's a DUH thing. Why pay the cable companies or satellite companies so much for something I can get on my computer? Nascar is so far behind the times, it's not funny. Why they insist on keeping such a tight grip on their failing product confounds me. I wonder if things will change once the big TV contracts expire?

@barbiehiltz said...

How is it that TNT's PitBuddy is able to stream the race live when they had their turn at coverage? nascar.com's offering is comical at best and most of the time does not work. Anyone who is keeping track of comments on Twitter has heard the endless complaints of Raceview and pitcommand not loading!I did try it when it was free and the graphics are laughable and the cost! well this is one diehard Nascar fan who will not be paying for that mess!!

Daly Planet Editor said...

Barbie,

TNT is owned by Turner so while they were able to stream some cameras and in-car audio for Race Buddy, they did not stream the TNT telecast of the race.

The frustration of NASCAR.com and the resulting Raceview is that no online video streaming of any races is currently allowed.

It's been a long four years for NASCAR.com trying to make money offering computer graphics, scoreboards and animated cars.

I am sure Turner and NASCAR.com are looking at the current ESPN streaming move and pushing for more direct online streaming of races, practices and qualifying for 2011.

JD

Delenn said...

JD, so the real reason the stream appeared "after the race had started" did not even bear a mention. Nascar trying to do the right thing for once did not bear a mention. Disappointing JD. The story behind the stream is interesting, but please give Nascar some credit in the main article for trying to help us UK users out at short notice. The actually deserve it this time.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Delenn,

In following up on the UK issue I found that Turner was not even aware of the problem.

The online feed was started the moment ESPN began streaming the race to the TWC customers.

Since the ESPN telecast of the race was now available, NASCAR passed along the information and we used that to help the UK fans with the situation of having no live TV.

Jury is still out on whether the UK provider Open Access has things sorted out and will be live with Homestead.

I hope that addressed your concerns.

JD

Delenn said...

Thanks for the info. Heck of a coincidence. Did anyone explain why this week in particular was chosen to do this?

Re: Open Access. There are very public arguments between various people involved in organising the UK coverage. Lots of stories of unpaid bills. Not sure what to believe here. Stories are that it may be on another channel as a one off, on Open Access, or not on at all. We wait until Sunday.

PammH said...

I just want to let you know that I tried to watch the live streaming on Nascar.com Sunday-loaded it 3 times. Nothing every showed up for me. I'm in Michigan, for what it's worth. It was a great thing for the folks in the UK for sure!

Daly Planet Editor said...

Delenn,

NASCAR.com has done this since Talladega evertime ESPN streams online for NASCAR races.

I expect it to continue for Homestead.

JD

Vince said...

PammH, I'm in Michigan too and the live streaming on nascar.com worked fine for me. I have Charter for my Internet. You don't have any Ad Blockers or anything like that installed on your browser do you? Could be something with your browser setup or Internet provider?

I hope the live streaming is back for Homestead. Only way I can watch.

Don said...

I don't have ESPN. Curious about the race, I went to nascar.com to look at the running order. I didn't realize that Phoenix started that late, and stumbled upon the live stream at around lap 10.

Very happy about this and hope to see the same for Homestead. I wouldn't have cared much a year or two ago but the points race is tight and this could be an interesting race. Think I'll leave the sound off though. I don't want to be subjected to "if the race ended now" after every commercial.

Phil said...

PammH,

Do you have a Mac? I do and found the stream didn't load correctly in Safari or Chrome. I just got a black screen with audio. In the end, I booted up a Windows 7 virtual PC and watched the race using IE7.

I just hope the same thing happens on Sunday as a backup for those of us in the UK.

PammH said...

Vince-I didn't have any problems with RaceBuddy, so I don't think I have an Ad-BLocker.
Don-nope, a PC. I have no idea what the dealio was, I didn't even get audio-just a black screen.
Thanks for trying to help, guys..:)

Anonymous said...

How about a simple lesson for those who don't know how to plug their PC into their TV's?

What cables are needed, etc. HDMI out to HDMI in?

Saw that question asked several times, but not really addressed.

Vince said...

Anon @ 7;09. that's going to depend on what type of tv you have and what connectors you have on the back of the tv. And also what type of computer you have and its connection capabilities. Send me a PM and I'll try and help you out.

Vince