Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Be Virtually Assured Commercial Content Is Growing

In August of this year, ESPN divested itself of the familiar BASS fishing and outdoor organization. Acquired in 2001 with much fanfare, BASS was supposed to be the cornerstone of an exclusive line-up of outdoor programming on the ESPN networks.

Now, instead of owning sports media companies, ESPN's new thrust is technology. There is a fledgling 3D TV network and a rebranded ESPN3.com that delivers content through broadband and XBOX Live channels. Monday, ESPN quietly made another purchase.

Click here to view the website for PVI Virtual Media Services. Formerly owned by cable TV giant Cablevision, the company's employees and assets are in the process of being transferred over to the ESPN/Disney family.

At the core of this purchase is what are called intellectual property rights. Basically, ESPN is not only buying technology but also what it has already been used to create. If PVI developed it, ESPN now owns it.

How does this relate to NASCAR? It's pretty simple to understand. What PVI specializes in is using technology to insert graphics and advertising inside of live sports TV programs. It's actually called "virtual insertion" because the computers take the live picture, insert the additional content and then send it off to the cable TV viewers. Fans at the event never see a thing.

NASCAR fans may remember the TNT guys inserting start and finish line markers, turn labels on a road course or even virtual logos over the track to provide more information. Buying PVI gives ESPN an in-house company that can overlay almost any graphic or logo on a live sports event in real time.

"This is another acquisition that augments ESPN's leadership position in innovation and technology development," ESPN executive vice president of technology Chuck Pagano said in a media release. "PVI has developed some of the television industry's leading virtual content, and now the addition of their engineering team will help ESPN continue to invent ground-breaking production enhancements for our fans."

There are absolutely some aspects of PVI technology that enhance a sports telecast. The yellow line instantly marking the first down in football has become a fan favorite. Our discussion today, however, centers on what is being reflected in the picture above. The Subway logo is being "virtually inserted" into a New York Rangers NHL game shown on the MSG network.

While many hockey fans watching on TV were outraged by the distraction, quite different feelings were being expressed by the MSG management. "Virtual ads are the truest form of immersive advertising," said Dan Ronayne, executive vice president and general manager of MSG Networks. "This puts a brand right in front of a game in a way that is prominent and impactful."

ESPN carries the entire season of Nationwide Series races and the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series events, including the Chase for the Championship races. Each race is a multi-hour affair with no restriction on where the cameras point. There is no ball to follow, no puck to chase and no base runners. Where virtual advertising is concerned, NASCAR is a target rich environment.

This type of additional sponsor element is quite different than the Digger disaster of NASCAR on FOX several years ago. That animation ended the announcer's conversation, required the TV truck to playback an element with sound effects and completely disrupted the telecast. That was then, this is now.

In ESPN's new virtual world, the Nationwide cars may come down the backstretch at Daytona with advertising logos on the grass, track or SAFER barrier. PVI could insert a virtual Jumbotron style scoreboard, a blimp or any other graphic element created for the event.

The actual cars would be seen on TV racing right past, over top or even through the logos as if it was magic. These virtual elements could be added to in-car cameras, pit stops, caution periods and even passes for the lead. The potential uses are infinite.

While fans at the track would be unaffected, it's going to be the good old NASCAR TV viewers that would once again see their world changing rather drastically without much of a choice. It's going to be very interesting to see if virtual ads make their way into the 2011 NASCAR television package, what networks use them and how they affect our viewing experience.

We welcome your comments 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. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


Anonymous said...

OK - this technology is being used currently in a fairly conservative manner. Conservative compared to the use that bspn will put it to. You wrote they could drive over or even through logos and such. Think about the safer barriers plastered/ wallpapered with logos, next add another layer of painted with logos race cars, then add logos on anything or any where else they can put them... potential video disaster brewing.
Expecting the network who loves "Hypercoverage" to be judicious with this technology, is well unrealistic to be polite. Think bumper cam, in car cam, dash cam, and you get the idea of the real potential for abusive behavior. And we will still get commercial break at or before lap 10.

I had decided that when Tony Stewart retires from racing I was done with NA$CAR - this could make it happen sooner.

Thanks for your hard work here JD, and Merry Christmas.
35+ race fan who doesn't fit the demographics
word verify = retrye LOL

Sally said...

You know, if I thought using the virtual ads would keep ESPN from interrupting the telecast so often, I could live with it. However, I'm sure that it will be used in addition to all the commercial breaks. So, now not only will the cars and drivers be rolling billboards, but everything else at the track will become an ad. Lovely.

Bill H said...

So it would be possible for ESPN to resell individual car sponserships or hold the sponsors hostage for more money if they want their logo to show up on the car they are sponsering.

GinaV24 said...

Ugh. Something else to take up space on the TV screen instead of green flag racing. More commercialization, less reason to watch.

Anonymous said...

Will this mean less commercial breaks or is it a gimmick to get more revenue for the network?

JoeS said...

If the techno ads cut the number of cut-away ads, I'm OK with it. I would much rather stay with the event and see a Subway overlay, than leaving to a 30-60 second commercial.

E-Ticket said...

These have already been used during Indy 500 telecasts for years. Putting ads on the grass during the race, I don't think they will take place of commercial breaks in any way shape or form. ESPN will just be able to intergrate what they need more easily. These ads are also used behind the backstops on MLB games too.

Roland said...

well if theres a tv network out there that takes things too far its espn. Remember draft track? or the Aerosmith opening? I expect the screen will be loaded down with this crap. They could (and should) be using this for our benefit. Highlighting the restart lines so we could see them better would be nice. But I expect to see what you talked about, cars running through sponsor logos. Technology like this, used responsibly, can greatly benefit the broadcast. But Espn shoots themselves in the foot with overkill and this will be no different.

Anonymous said...

There is something in the water in Bristol, Ct.

Anonymous said...

@Bill H - wow really good point! Or another thing they could do is say for Sprint Cup races heavily advertise (virtually) a different cell phone company. What would stop them? Not much I think - then what happens to the "exclusive blah blah sponsor of NA$CAR" ?

Barry in Tennessee said...

@Jojaye said: "What would stop them?"

NASCAR would. In fact, they already have.

Verizon developed a plan with Fox to superimpose the Verizon logo onto the rollbars and other interior areas during in-car shots of the #12 car. They even tested it during the Bud Shootout.

Once NASCAR and Sprint got word of the plan, NASCAR quickly called a meeting before the start of the Daytona 500 with Verizon, Fox and Penske officials. NASCAR told them the 12 car would be black flagged and parked if such logos were superimposed during the race.

NASCAR owns the media content of the races and therefore will have the ulitmate say in when, how and where this technology will be used.

Anonymous said...

Issue #1: The new technology incorprated isn't used to enhance the sport. Just a marketing tool distrating the game when poorly placed.

Issue #2: The commercializtion of everything. One day I hope this will backfire and broadcast companies will regret it. A gigantic Subway logo in the picture will not encourage me to get Subway. It only angers me.

Issue #3: Treating sports fans like they are stupid. I hated the 'Start' and 'Turn #' graphics TNT used in the 2000's.

Issue #4: Do we really need all these graphics? Looking back at old telecasts, the 2010 broadcasts are obnoxious compared to 2002.

Anonymous said...

'Back in the day' as they say I would actively support a product that was involved in Nascar. Like when Tide sponsored Ricky Rudd I went out of my way to buy their product. I don't do that very much any more.

If Subway really thinks I'll get up and go buy a sandwich because they have some computer generated logo floating above the rink during a hockey game they are wasting their money.


Anonymous said...

The fake logos will increase the number of fake fans and dramatically drop the number of real fans. Fake is fake. If it keeps going, will we be seeing real cars on the track or will they be "enhanced" so it will seem more exciting.

Anonymous said...

While this has the potential to eliminate the dreaded plethora of commercials, I fear that it would be abused by both BSPN and NAPCAR and drive even more fans away than they've already managed to do with their uber-abundance of commercials and race manipulation in the quest to sell air time and attempt to lure in even more sponsors for themselves rather than those sorely needed by the teams because of the ever escalating cost of racing thanks to the dreaded and accursed Catastrophe on Track (COT).

Charlie said...

Just think how big and how many logo ads they could put over the area where fans sit.
This way you will not know how empty the seats really are.

Espn could have a logo show up on every camera shot. I am not looking forward to this.
I am one of those that dislikes what regular Tv stations are doing with the station logo in the bottom corner of the screen during a show. They are now even putting another logo in the other corner, like the Hallmark channel does.
You even have pop ups running along the bottom of the screen right in the middle of a show.
Remember back when you could watch a Tv show and nothing else was on the screen but the show. The good old days.

AncientRacer said...


What empty seats? There will not be any empty seats. The seats will be packed, if not by live fans then by CGI fans. I've been to tests of this kind of technology and it is something. And I have been told that the only things the developers want to "respect" are the physical venue (i.e. Yankee Stadium is Yankee Stadium, etc.) and the action itself. Everything else from crowds to signs to soup to nuts is fair game.

The developers really want to be able to do in real time everything they can do in film post production now and they will get there sooner rather than later.

Welcome to Pandora

TexasRaceLady said...

And we thought it couldn't get any worse. *sigh*

Jimbacca said...

I've seen that for a few years in Touring Cars. Fake monitors, graphics in the asphalt.

If they bought a good kind then it won't look as cartoonish as the TNT and you wouldn't really notice that it's not real.

Vince said...

Those that think this technology may cut down on the number of commercials are dreaming. It's not gonna happen. I really, really dislike a the graphics we already have on the screen. This has the potential to be a real cluster you-know-what, if abused.

Like one of the other posters said, I used to spend my $$ on the products that supported my drivers or Nascar in general. But not any more. I will go out of my way now, NOT to buy products that continually show the same commercial over and over (Nationwide are you listening). Or the products and companies that splash graphics all over the screen when coming back from a commercial break.

I'm also tired of the on air media people endlessly pushing products. I don't need to be told that the "insert sponsor here" Cheverolet is coming in for a tank of Sunoco gas and four fresh Goodyears. It is sickening and insults my intelligence. I know the sponsors pay a lot of money to give their products exposure, but it has gotten to the point of being ridiculous.

I also agree with Charlie, the networks and stations all putting their little (or large) logos in the corner of the screen is annoying. You notice they don't put their station/network logos on the screen during commercials, just when there is something on the screen you really want to watch.

I'm still hoping some wizbang engineer will invent a little black box that will zap all the logos and graphics off of my screen. I'd pay for that.

Anonymous said...

NASCAR and its broadcast partners are constantly searching for new ways to extract more and more dollars from the sport. Individually, most of them are unpleasant but tolerated by most fans. Taken together, it is becoming death by a thousand cuts. The greed is killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

I have been following the sport for many years, but the lousy broadcasts and endless commercialization have caused me to cut back substantially on the time I devote to it. If it keeps moving in the same direction, I will have to ask myself if it is time to give it up altogether.

I expect the next sign of the apocalypse will be an announcement that ESPN has signed Kevin Nealon (Mr. Subliminal on Saturday Night Live) to train all their personnel in subliminal advertising techniques. I'm sure they would do it if they thought it would work.

Charlie said...

Was just reading what AncientRacer wrote and if they can make logos and all kinds of stuff with this new technology we may never see fake cautions again. They will be able to make their own debris.

Anonymous said...

@Barry in Tenn. - Respectfully noted that was Verizon a competing company to Sprint, not a "media partner" like a network. So it is a bit different, especially since BZF thinks every thing bspn does is great. And we know how BZF thinks things through so very carefully -and always considers future developments in technology.

larry said...

The main reason I'm a FORMER fanatic follower of NASCAR is the "top 35" rule that eliminated several of my favorite drivers when it started. Along those same lines, I'm no longer using products of those "NASCAR Official" sponsors that have frozen out other potential sponsors.

The prominence of commercialism has made me completely lose interest. I know it is an expensive sport and sponsors are necessary, but when I raced stock cars in the 50s the cars and drivers were more important than the money.

Now, a really great driver is irrelevent unless he brings a really great sponsor with him.

Yeah, I'll check in here and skim through the "day-after programs", but I doubt that I will waste my time sitting through the raceday commercials and hype.

If NASCAR ever gets back to racing cars instead of promoting products as their primary purpose, I'll be happy to watch "racing" again.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if I can buy ad space on Danica's forehead?

earl06 said...

...add another aggravating aspect to an already terrible broadcast. You'd think NASCAR and ESPN would want folks to tune in to the races, but apparently not.

I'll say it again, IndyCar now has a CEO that gives a hoot. If they get a real TV contract when ComCast/NBCU merge, NASCAR could be really circling the bowl.

Anonymous said...

This technology can save NASCAR if it is taken to its next level. Why stop with altering the scenery? I say we should alter the people to make them more desireable, more professional, more perfect in every way.

Let's give Mark Martin a virtual face lift so he looks like he's 30 years old again. Let's take some weight off Tony Stewart and give him some rock-hard abs. And let's give Danica some enhancements in strategic places. Maybe they can even run Larry Mac's voice through a synthesizer and make him sound like James Earl Jones.

I have seen the virtual world, and it is beautiful. Amen.

Word verification: ducksru
No kidding. "Ducks are you"
Has AFLAC taken over TDP and begun subliminal advertising?