Sunday, April 24, 2011

Discovery Confirms Velocity Network

You may have stumbled across a channel on your cable dial called Discovery HD Theater. The network is an eclectic mix of car shows, motorsports and adventure programs. It is even the TV home of the WRC rally series in the US. When my remote brought me to that location, I often came to a screeching halt.

It certainly looked like Discovery was putting something together for the future. Money was being spent on programming and resources were being used for production. A national HD channel was being cleared for new programs. Something was bound to happen. Now we know exactly what was in the works.

Discovery Communications is a monster. The corporation likes to use the term "The world's largest nonfiction media company." The programming content distributed in all kinds of categories spans the globe and touches 180 countries. The corporate headquarters are in Silver Spring, MD.

Most recently in the headlines was Discovery teaming with Oprah Winfrey to launch OWN. That's right, the Oprah Winfrey Network. The talkshow superstar is expanding her brand into an entire 24-hour cable network aimed at the kind of demographic she has been able to attract for years. Having a loyal audience is the key to this entire equation.

On the heels of OWN, Discovery finally confirmed what had been rumored for a long time. In the fourth quarter of this year, Discovery HD Theater will become a stand-alone HD cable network called Velocity.

At this point, you may be asking why this news item is appearing on a NASCAR TV blog. Before we answer that question, let's hear from Discovery's President David Zaslav.

"Velocity continues Discovery's tradition of maximizing the value of each of its cable platforms," said Zaslav in a media release. "It is going to be a game changer when it officially joins our portfolio of U.S. networks later this year. As the first network devoted to the upscale men's market, Velocity will be a hub for viewers within this key demographic, as well as the wealth of advertisers that target them."

So, what Discovery has been slowly piecing together is a line-up that appeals primarily to men and involves cars, motorsports and adventure programming. I wonder where they got that idea?

Currently, Discovery HD Theater is in about 40 million cable homes in the US. Expect this number to start to creep up now that the announcement has been made of a full-blown cable network with original programming starting in September. Helping that growth is the name behind the project.

Bob Scanlon is a familiar name in cable TV circles. After leaving ESPN with several other top executives, Scanlon began to assemble a new cable network from scratch as the Vice President and Executive Producer. Based in Stamford, CT it had an interesting mix of programming. There were cars, boats, airplanes and motorcycle shows. The name of the network was SpeedVision.

When SpeedVision launched in 1996 it quickly became the fastest growing cable network in history. Never before had the ratings folks seen such a strong male demographic drawn consistently to one cable TV network. It was clear from the start that SpeedVision was going places.

In the summer of 2001 News Corporation came calling and Rupert Murdoch bought one-third of the company. In August of that year, he leveraged a buyout that gave him majority ownership and control. As FOX arrived and changed the name to SPEED Channel, Scanlon departed. Such is the nature of the television business.

Now ten years later, Scanlon is back and Velocity is ready to go. "In the same way that a car once defined the person who drove it, Velocity will define the viewer who watches it," said Scanlon. "Whether you are a car aficionado or just someone who prefers fast-paced, high-stakes television, Velocity will become a must-have entertainment destination."

Scanlon also talked a little bit about the programming. "Velocity will televise an upscale sailing race that touches five oceans," said Scanlon. "It will also offer travel programming to upscale locations, adventure sports and real-life adrenaline shows."

To many NASCAR fans, Scanlon is known for something else. A very long time ago and with very little money in the budget, Scanlon commissioned a NASCAR talk show from a dingy little studio in an industrial park in Charlotte, NC.

Inside Winston Cup Racing on Monday nights featured an unlikely cast of characters. Johnny Benson looked like a Midwestern accountant. Kenny Schrader was a wily racing veteran who had a wicked sense of humor and a touch of mischief in his soul. Michael Waltrip was completely off his rocker.

By putting that trio in a controlled environment and challenging host Allen Bestwick to maintain order, the TV series became a cult hit. There had never been anything like it on the air before. It served to introduce NASCAR fans to the other forms of racing on SpeedVision. It worked like a charm.

Monday, Scanlon confirmed to The Daly Planet that he is currently working on a new original television project for Velocity with the NASCAR Media Group. After all the frustrating years of SPEED turning down NMG projects, it seems ironic that things may have come full circle.

NASCAR desperately needs new and original TV programming out in the marketplace other than just the races or news shows. Velocity will be a network driven by high-end HD programming. This is exactly what NMG loves to produce. Many of us can recall several series cancelled by SPEED that later won awards for production.

There is little doubt that Scanlon intends to make Velocity the newest NASCAR TV partner. Scanlon also made it clear that he is open to ideas and discussions about other motorsports and adventure programming. That is even better news for independent TV production companies like the ones owned by Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt. Jr.

There is nothing like having the top executive of a new cable network launched under the Discovery umbrella saying he is open to new programming ideas. Come September, we may find ourselves with a new TV player in town chasing many of the same eyeballs as the current NASCAR TV partners.

The big difference this time around is that the guy actually driving the bus has made this trip before. He knows all the bumps, sharp turns and obstacles along the roadway. Scanlon and Velocity may be just the TV shot in the arm that NASCAR needs this year. We will keep you posted as the news continues to develop on this new network.

We invite 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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Disclosure: I worked for Scanlon at ESPN for several years in the 1980's. Later, as a TV consultant, I was hired to assist SpeedVision in ramping-up for the launch of the network. Subsequently, I provided programming to SpeedVision as a producer. I currently have no association with Scanlon or the Velocity network.


Jonathan said...

Rock on this is great to hear!!! Awsome just what Nascar needs

Don said...

There's no question that Speedvision had better motorsports and automotive programming than Speed.

I was frustrated by the heavy coverage of marine and aero subjects though. I fear that this is a another channel that will have two or three great shows but not a reliable goto channel when I'm bored. In other words, the way Speed is now.

I would have preferred that Jim Liberatore had gotten The Racing Network ( off the ground. I want a motorsports channel not a men's lifestyle channel.

larry said...

This is great news! Being a former race car driver and pilot, I enjoyed all the programming on speedvision. I particularly liked the old detailed flight/preflight episodes on the old warbirds.

Anonymous said...

Why, oh why, isn't Scanlon running NASCAR Media? Too much to ask for, I guess.
NASCAR needs a visionary, and fans get Digger.

Anonymous said...

Very exciting news. I do think the NASCAR tv market is oversaturated right now for any new NASCAR programming. But this channel would be the perfect home for USAR Pro Cup & the K&N East and West series. Any type of racing is better than the scripted tv and reality tv currently on SPEED.

GinaV24 said...

Even though I'm not a guy - it sounds like fun to me! Not sure that I'd watch boats but I like racing and you never know, if it broadens the horizons, well, anything is better than the "lifestyle" programming we're stuck with on Speed.

Anonymous said...

The only problem is:

IF it's strictly a HD network, they will NOT be getting the most possible number of potential viewers ...

Many of us do NOT have HD tvs and are in no hurry to get one ... Nor do we want to pay the extra costs to get the HD broadcasts & a HD-DVR ...

I'd rather have Versus join the NASCAR tv family and replace the schmeggeges at Disney ...

db said...

I stumbled upon HD Theater about a year ago, after our HD channels were revised. My initial thoughts were that this sure was awfully like the old Speedvision. Thanks for the heads up-hopefully Discovery can make it work--maybe even do a revival of a certain former Monday night staple...

Anonymous said...

I have very fond memories of Speedvision. It always struck me as a serious presenter of no-nonsense sports. At the time, I bought my first powerboat....with two blown, 572 Chevies. Compared to racing cars, this was part of my maturation process.Speedvision regularly showed serious boat racing. Nascar could benefit from some shows that take the best of Monday's Nascar Now, Nascar Performance and Race Hub. As long as they don't show clips I've seen 100 times like the lead cars crossing the finish line at Dega.

52 yr. fan said...

I greatly enjoy this channel now
and look forward to the upgrades.
I hope Mr. Scanlon will not be
be subject to pressure from NA$CAR
and the NMG and offers some free-
thinking programs about our sport.

The first time I see a Waltrip or
Wallace it's over.

17972 B. C. said...

I agree with buschseries that the NASCAR programming is saturated presently, at least on the Sprint Cup level.That said, the chance for other NASCAR properties to get added exposures in any form is a plus. The HD only format will tick some off.And don't be surprised if Discovery changes format quickly if unsucessful, as they did with Planet Green after it didn"t attract enough viewership.They are a successful network for a reason.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Just give me that jet boat racing from New Zealand and I will be happy! Remember that stuff?

KoHoSo said...

I'm nowhere near as enthused about this announcement as most people seem to be so far. What I miss the most from the old SpeedVision (besides the glory days of IWC) is racing. From what I get out of reading the announcements about this new channel, I feel like its just another spot on my dial filled with "lifestyle" and pseudo-reality programming -- both of which are things I do not care for and feel already glut my channel lineup. Having seen what Discovery has done with its other channels over the years where I used to be a big watcher and now just hit up Science on occasion, I'm going to actually have to see something of substance before I start doing a happy dance.

After all, Discovery Networks are the people that decided Star Trek: The Next Generation belongs on BBC America. :-s

Stick With the Biff said...

KoSoHo...that drove me *crazy*--instead of British shows, we get old reruns of an American one that has already been rerun to death.... Arghhhhhh!

Discovery networks are just as bad for its lifestyle content with their 'hoarding' shows, and the medical ones with the weird conditions...yuck. I'm am glad for you 'upscale men' (ie, having disposable cash) that there's a place for some more NASCAR programming on your dials, this poor woman will not be able to watch these, lol.

And yes, I get 'OWN' but I haven't watched a single thing on it yet. Guess I don't fit in anyone's demographic.

Anonymous said...

Great News! This is gonna cause the other networks to either get the act together or be gone! I wish them all the best of luck!

Stick with the Biff said...

BTW...I know this is off topic, but just for comparison's sake--for those of you who feel put off because Speed and ESPN don't show enough NASCAR programming--imagine yourself a figure skating fan (yes, I like suto racing and figure wonder I'm in no one's demographic...). The rescheduled *World* championships are on Universal sports, which is not available in my area, and I cannot watch 'tv' on the internet very well with my DSL. So I can't even *pay* to watch it decently without an upgrade. I'm just hoping maybe my buddy Justin will have something for least if it's crappy it'll be free.

Anonymous said...


OSBORNK said...

I agree with 52. If they hire ANY Waltrip or Wallace to work on their shows, I will also be gone.

Charlie said...

This is a guess but the sailing that Velocity will show maybe the new 2011-2012 America’s Cup World Series.
This series will race all over the world and the teams in this series will then compete in the America's Cup.
Last time around Versus televised the America's Cup.

Anonymous said...

I do remember the jet boats. As I said, they covered all the seriously fast stuff whether it had four wheels, two wings,etc. The hosts were also time for fluff as the action was so fast. And they knew what the hell they were talking about! A lot of go fast sports got tv coverage no where else on a regular basis.

GinaV24 said...

LOL, I don't watch OWN either. I work during the day so never got into the Oprah show or talk shows in general for that matter.

that said - I do like to watch racing and if this channel will give a home to some of the grassroots racing series, I will be happy.

WHVL_PitPass said...

I agree with the comments about the oversaturation of NASCAR programming. IWCR was a great show and served a purpose because NASCAR wasn't all over the dial as it is now. I fondly remember Neil Bonnett's "Winners" show. Still have those episodes on VHS somewhere. I miss the old ASA races on TNN and the Hooters Pro Cup races. And, that's where I feel these networks are missing out. SOMEONE needs to realize that not EVERY race fan is a NASCAR fan. Say what you will about "Madhouse". At least someone was willing to profile grassroots racers. I have a show here in Pennsylvania that covers short track racing in the state. People who have seen it like it because it is something DIFFERENT. That's why the networks need to look to the smaller racing series. TNN did it right with the ASA series because it stuck with one group of drivers that you could get familiar with. The Hooter Pro Cup Series was the same way. Although it is still "NASCAR", the K & N Series or even Whelen series would be appealing to many fans. Even catching an asphalt Late Model race would be nice. As for dirt, you have the World of Outlaws and the bigger dirt Late Model series. These networks are missing golden opportunities. I know producing these types of show take a lot of resources, particularly money. I've been in the TV biz for 27 years. I know it CAN be done.

Ron Fox

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 12:44PM,

On the last lap, it all came down to which buggy could get it done through the sippy hole!

Anonymous said...

Velocity sounds like a good prospect to me. The key word to me is "upscale". I am not upscale and don't have a lot of money to throw around, so that's not why they may attract me. However, upscale usually suggests an educated and informed audience. If they intend to produce programming for an intelligent market, I'm all for it.

I am tired of Fox and Speed producing programming aimed at the lowest common denominator audience. They feature cartoon rodents, buffoons, clowns, commentators who tell the audience what to think, a background audience of screaming drunks, etc.

ESPN is guilty on another level. They feature Tim Brewer giving the most inane and ridiculous "technical" information that is insulting to most viewers. And the ignorance of the sport by the lead play by play announcer is unintentionally funny. Or maybe just pitiful.

I disagree with those who say that the market is saturated with NASCAR programming. It is only saturated with the mindless cornball stuff that Speed and Fox produce. I don't watch any of the pre-race stuff, not because I'm not interested, but because I will not tolerate the fluff and nonsense to get a small amount of useful information. Current programming reminds me of a club for junior high school boys.

If Velocity treats its audience with respect, I think there will be an audience. I for one will welcome the change.

GinaV24 said...

WHVL - JD wrote a column about the Dirt Knights program being shown on Versus and I have been watching or recording it to watch later.

I agree with your assessment that there are a lot of race fans out there for more forms of racing than what we are currently being shown.

I agree heartily with anon 3:11 and ALSO with those who said that it should be a Waltrip/Wallace free zone.

Anonymous said...

From the description of the channel, I was excited. Checked to see if I had it. I do, but didn't know it as I'd never paid any attention to it on the cable guide with its shortened abbreviations of channel names.

My cable company doesn't carry the NFL Network but seems to go for a lot of smaller sports stations - probably can get a lot of them for little cost.

I never paid much attention to versus until Indy racing started showing up on it.

I know a designer of one of America's Cup boats - would enjoy watching more of that even though I don't presently understand a lot about it.

Would enjoy seeing produced programming like Jr's Back in the Day as well as racing in all the feeder series. Would Arca qualify to be televised more often on a station like this?

My cable company - Mediacom - does not charge more for HD boxes or recorders.

Inside Winston Cup was absolutely great.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we'll be seeing any NASCAR on Velocity. That's because I keep reading the word "upscale" when it comes to their advertising demographic.

When you go see a race in the Rolex series, a lot of the fans in the stands are probably wearing Rolex on their wrist. Not so at NASCAR, so I think they'll probably take a bye on that series in favor of F1.

w17scott said...

Mr Editor -
Oh for the return of the 'sippy' hole for the jet boats, not sure, but I did watch offshore w/Popeye's boat ...SpeedVision was entertaining all the way around ...HD attached to this channel likely to leave me and others out of the loop HD TV and not able to buy into HD (premium) channels ...maybe later, but look forward to follow-up here

Anonymous said...

I lucked out! We can receive Discovery HD Theatre. Turned it on only to look into the jaws of a Great White shark (show on Predators). I look forward to the new programming later this year. Thanks JD for the heads-up.

Anonymous said...

This has been a fun thread! Everyone, including JD seems to be having fun looking back as some neat programming on Speedvision. Something for everyone.....

AncientRacer said...

24/7/365 is a long time. Even 3/5/52 is a long time and the maw eats programming at an alarming rate as we all know.

Leads to things like "The Racing Chef" or Mikey's Gong Show; some sort of desperate attempt to fill the void.

I'm skeptical and vote with KoHoSo on this one -- except to note that Thom Beers' shop did come up with "Deadliest Catch" for Discovery and that is a plus though for every one of those there are beau coup turkeys such as those I mentioned above. ;)

glenc1 said...

anon 4:50...I have been to many Rolex races, and I've got a Timex on my wrist, lol. It's a rich man's sport to participate in...but you would find most of the fans are just regular people who love racing. Yes, there are some wealthy sports car enthusiasts, but there are also wealthy NASCAR enthusiasts. I think the 'upscale' Velocity demographic would probably be more like the Golf Channel. Probably more ads for expensive toys, more financial services. I they're assuming anyone who has an HD tv & channels has income they choose to spend on this stuff. Could be young single guys as well without kids to save for college for (yet.)

Anonymous said...

Mediacom in my Iowa town does not charge extra for HD channels.

Roland said...

Maybe they can take all the lifestyle shows from Speed so Speed can become the channel its supposed to be. Don't really see this Velocity channel being a huge hit. Discovery does zero live programming that I know of, so the chances of live races from any form of racing being shown on this channel are none. This could be the new home for WRC and the Dakar Rally though.

Palmetto said...

I swear, the swamp buggies were the first thing I remembered when JD mentioned SpeedVision. Riding lawn mowers, drag boats, snow mobiles, pylon aircraft, Figure 8s, farm equipment demo derbies, tons of local short track silliness; it reminded me of the eclectic mix on early ESPN. Whatever the vehicles involved, the drivers were going to be COMPETING, and not a 'life style' program in sight. Let's hope Velocity is more like that and less like Barrett-Jackson.

The Mad Man said...

If it's strictly an HD channel, then they're going to have a very small market share as a lot of folks haven't made the move to HD because of economic reasons, whether they can't afford an HD TV or can't afford the $10 per channel some cable companies charge.

I'd enjoy seeing some real racing that's not scripted from Daytona Beach and sandwiched in between a plethora of commercials with shills and cheerleaders constantly blabbering taking away from what's happening on the track and camera work that is so disjointed you can't tell what's going on. Give me some chimps on tricycles racing at Darlington over what we're constantly being served up as "racing". I don't need fluff or reality TV. I want real racing action. I don't need the boredom of Bondo-Jackson. I want some racing I can sink my teeth into from the drop of the green flag to the waving of the checkered flag. Right now, nobody offers that. About the closest thing to that is Versus IndyCar coverage. Neither Faux/Speed nor BSPN offer it.

connan said...

I cannot wait until DISH Network carries this channel in HD so I don’t have to pay anything additional for the HD channel. Being a DISH Network customer and employee I can tell you that DISH Network customer have the ability to take TV everywhere they go on Smartphone’s, Tablets, and Laptops. Check this out

boyd said...

Hey, before Speed we had TNN for weekend racing fun. That's where I first saw the swamp buggys. Beside the sippy hole, remember them tossing the queen in?

Daly Planet Editor said...


Look on YouTube! And They Walked Away 4 and Swamp Buggy Racing Naples, FL for great old footage.

ATWA4 even has the queen getting dunked with the late Steve Evans doing the voice-over!


boyd said...

I really miss Steve Edwards. Worked as a spotter for some events on TNN at Tulsa Speedway and other things. He even used my quote when explaining what Sooners were in Oklahoma.
After shooting the races with snow flutties on time, he was the first to bring 'warming' beverage to the spotters and camera men.
He was sure fun to work with.

Dennis M said...

As several others have said, if Velocity is anything like the old SpeedVision we will be there. We went to Dish network years ago because that was the only place we could get SpeedVision and Inside Winston Cup!

Hopefully Mr Scanlon will follow the same formula - if it has a motor and it is going fast, I'll be there to watch it. Cars, boats, airplanes, swamp buggies, shifter carts, etc, etc - bring it on! I'll even go for America's Cup racing!

This is great news, we already had our DVR set to record the WRC on HD Theatre, now we can look for more!

Anonymous said...

Never been anything like "Inside Winston Cup Racing"! How soon they forget the program that set the standard! Figure it out... old timer!