Thursday, November 11, 2010

NASCAR's Online Standoff Continues (Updated)

This is a topic that is near and dear to our heart. It's a topic that has very diverse opinions expressed by those on both sides of the equation. It's time to talk about streaming NASCAR races and other NASCAR video content online.

As you may know, Turner Sports holds a contract to operate the website that also includes control of online NASCAR video. The current offerings on include leaderboards, stats and even electronic tracking of cars as they race, but there is no live video.

Each weekend, NASCAR uses a combination of TV partners to originate practice, qualifying and race coverage for its three national touring series. Unlike other professional motorsports, none of that coverage is made available online.

FOX and ESPN have been adamant that any streaming, even of the network's own NASCAR programming with commercials, would undermine their respective network agendas. FOX wants to protect the exclusivity of programming for local stations while ESPN wants to be the sole source of events like The Chase for the Championship.

Click here to see what Time Warner Cable subscribers got recently. It seems that in response to the large amount of consumers using online video sources instead of cable TV, ESPN has changed direction.

In fact, ESPN has gone ahead and started streaming it's networks to TWC customers. Needless to say, that includes NASCAR races and other NASCAR programming. As you may well imagine, this did not sit very well with the folks at Turner Sports.

Having been forced to sit on the sidelines for several years now where NASCAR was concerned, Turner responded aggressively. Registered users and those on the email list received a surprising note shortly before the Sprint Cup Series race from Talladega began. That is a piece of the email shown above.

Update: The folks at Turner pointed out that the format of the email pictured above is similar to one sent before every Cup Series race. We did not mean to imply that this type of communication was a one time thing.

It was an invitation for computer users to watch the live ESPN coverage of Talladega online at for no charge. Talk about a shot across the bow.

Sure enough, there was a nice big window with the ESPN coverage. In the blink of an eye, online users had access to a live NASCAR race. Just as ESPN was streaming the race to TWC customers, Turner Sports was streaming the race to users. ESPN held the TV rights and Turner held the online rights. Both chose to use them. You knew something had to give.

Suddenly, before the race was over the screen went black. Whether someone from ESPN, NASCAR or Turner pulled the plug is not known. What is known is that the Talladega race never came back online and the next race in Texas never even appeared. The online door had been slammed shut again.

It's pretty clear that there are some discussions going-on behind the scenes that feature NASCAR's biggest TV partner in ESPN and NASCAR's online partner in Turner just squaring off like the two Jeffs on the backstretch.

Turner issued a statement to us that addressed the issue:

One of our goals as a programmer is to make sure our audience receives an optimal viewing experience, regardless of the platform. We continue to have productive conversations with our NASCAR partners to develop opportunities and a model that supports the fans desire to consume content on multiple platforms for the 2011 Sprint Cup and Nationwide series.

That is a very polite way of saying that it's time for ESPN, FOX and even SPEED to wake-up to the fact that making NASCAR content available online should have happened years ago. Whatever the model, it has to happen for 2011.

In this day and age there is no excuse for a sport like NASCAR not to stream every single live telecast for the entire season. There is no excuse for the sport not to offer shows like NASCAR Now and Race Hub online.

Click here for a 2007 offering from the first season of The Daly Planet. It is titled "NASCAR Fans Turn To Internet As TV Networks Fail To Deliver."

In the first year of the new NASCAR TV contract, hardcore fans had no daily show on SPEED, two complete clowns on ESPN2's NASCAR Now and no designated post-race coverage on live race telecasts. SPEED was dark, ESPN was confused and only the Internet provided relief.

Now, four seasons later, we are still fighting to get even one Sprint Cup Series race streamed online as the sport suffers through an incredible downturn in TV ratings, popularity and attendance. That's a sad commentary on the inability of NASCAR's media partners to address the growing reality surrounding them.

Let's hope for the sake of the sport that cooler heads prevail and we can begin 2011 with a fulltime online TV application for NASCAR programming. Streaming may well hold the key to getting fans to return to the sport by making additional cameras, technology and information available in addition to the single channel TV feed.

We should have an update on this topic prior to Homestead. At this point, neither of the final two Sprint Cup Series races will be made available online. In an age of laptops, desktops, and iPads it seems almost amazing that this struggle continues.

As usual 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.