Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Changes At SPEED Expected To Continue

We have recently been talking about the changes SPEED has been going through since FOX Sports Chairman David Hill, pictured above, was put directly in charge of the cable TV network.

Hill's first attempt at a new Monday night line-up went down in flames. Michael Waltrip's amateur talent show, Jimmy Spencer's junkyard rants and a rehashing of NASCAR in a Hurry were eventually cancelled.

The lack of Monday through Thursday NASCAR programming on SPEED has been the hot topic for many years. Depending on who was in charge at the network, there has either been little or no effort put into creating original weekday NASCAR programs.

TV viewers who have seen Stealth Rider, Intersections or Battle of the Supercars know the current reality of SPEED all too well. Memories of former TV series like Beyond the Wheel, NBS 24/7 and This Week in NASCAR show a network that has been all over the map in terms of programming themes and genres.

Hill successfully began to make his mark at SPEED when he coordinated the Hall of Fame coverage by bringing in top-flight producers from Los Angeles. Suddenly, everyone at SPEED stepped things up a notch as it became clear this was not the good old boy approach fans had seen for years.

A short time ago, Hill made another major programming move. He decided to revamp Race Hub and make it a flagship news and interview series. He persuaded Steve Byrnes to come off the road and into the studio as the fulltime host. The show was expanded to one hour in length, a new studio set was created and a fulltime field reporter was hired.

SPEED finally had a solid weekday NASCAR presence that made sense. The production staff is only into week two and the changes have already paid dividends. Monday, Byrnes had Kyle Busch in studio for an extended interview that covered lots of topics and let fans see a very different side of this controversial driver.

While SPEED can create its own studio shows, it must purchase other NASCAR programming from the NASCAR Media Group (NMG). This downtown Charlotte company already produces the programming from the SPEED Stage as well as Race in 60 and NASCAR Hot Wired. NMG controls all NASCAR footage.

Hill's new agenda has to ultimately include exploring a merger between SPEED and NMG. A partnership would finally put these two rival fraternities on the same team. NMG would have direct access to an already successful cable TV network while SPEED would get the keys to the NMG footage vault, a treasure chest of historic NASCAR content.

Remember, SPEED was originally moved from Stamford, CT to Charlotte, NC in order to become a fulltime NASCAR TV network in a partnership between NASCAR and FOX. Those plans never worked out, but changes in management at both companies may now have set those wheels in motion again.

This is a critical time for both parties. NASCAR needs a very different television companion than the sporadic weekday coverage in place for the past three seasons. SPEED needs to shake the bipolar rap of catering to race fans on the weekends and teenagers on the week nights.

However Hill and NASCAR work it out, look for substantive changes at SPEED where NASCAR programming is concerned to continue at a rapid clip. Don't be surprised if a 24 hour fulltime NASCAR TV network is in the future. The very near future.

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