Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Split-Screen Commercials Come To The Chase

Update 5/24/11: This is a repost of a recent column by request. Comments still open.

Five years of asking why. Five years of missing one-third of the racing action. Five years of angry network executives, PR reps and NASCAR all blaming each other. Five long years of excuses.

The issue is how to solve the sagging ratings for the Sprint Cup Series telecasts. While each of the three TV networks involved produces the races differently, they all share one common problem. A heavy advertising load in a sport that cannot pause for commercials.

The solution seems simple. Use existing TV technology to show the commercial in one video box on the screen and keep the race in another. Fans stay because they can see the racing, but absorb the video and audio from the commercial.

The reality is anything but simple. Stepping into something new that directly affects a multi-million dollar TV revenue stream is like walking across an iced-over pond. It may prove harmless, but most folks would rather someone else go first.

Last week in Dover, FOX ran a single commercial break in the split-screen format. Nothing was mentioned about it in the telecast, it just came and went. Well, the fans noticed and so did the media.

FOX admitted it was an experiment. The following Monday, the NASCAR Fan Council survey came to members with a video of that experiment and lots of questions about what NASCAR fans thought about split-screen commercials. Something big was going on.

Tuesday morning, completely out of the blue, ESPN dropped a little bombshell. The network will use its own version of the split-screen, called ESPN Nonstop, for the second half of all ten Chase for the Championship races.

A picture of that format is above. Click here for a video of just how the transition to commercial happens. Notice that the "header" with all the graphics and the ticker stays consistent while the commercial and live racing action go side-by-side.

There is no word on whether FOX will use any split-screen breaks for that network's remaining two races. A TNT spokesman said that this year five of the six races in that network's package will have full-screen commercials. The July Daytona event will once again have "Wide Open" coverage that features split-screen commercials.

ESPN Nonstop was created in 2005 by the network to solve the very same problem in IndyCar races. Since 2007, when ESPN returned to NASCAR, the network has repeatedly said it would like to use this format but was contractually obligated by NASCAR to show full-screen commercials. Apparently, things have changed.

This finally opens the door to the type of substantive change that has been stalled for years and affecting the sport deeply. Technology is hurtling along at break-neck speed while NASCAR has continued to struggle with innovation inside the telecasts.

There is no going back in sports TV. Once something is tried and works, it becomes part of the landscape immediately. Moving to split-screen commercials for even a part of the Chase races means the pressure is now on for all three Sprint Cup Series TV partners to use this full time in 2012.

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.


Adam Wood said...

A step in the right direction for certain. Around the time the second half of the race comes on could be time the NFL starts its late games. Should be interesting to see if fans choose to stay with the race or go to football (assuming football happens....).

Vince said...

NASCAR has struggled with technology.......well.....since forever.

I'm glad to see this change, but what took so long? The foot dragging on the showing of commercials split screen has NASCAR's finger prints all over it. They have to be dragged kicking and screaming to make any technological changes. Look how long it's taken them to go to fuel injection.

NASCAR is really really in need of new management that has a clue.

Roland said...

For a long time ESPN hater to say this means a lot: Im excited for the ESPN races now.

Wow can't believe I said that.

Now granted until they remove the incredibly bad Marty Reid for AB Ill still be using MRN and PRN for my commentary, but the side by side commercials at least make me feel better about where ESPN is going. Wish it was for the entire race, for all 17 ESPN races but hey its better than nothing.

Going to be real interesting to see what FOX does. Twitterville, especially Jenna Fryer, made FOX out to be the bad guys today, saying that ESPN had this in the works for a while and that FOX made a pre-emptive strike during Sundays race. Can't wait to see what FOX does at the 600.

Also great news on the TNT side of things. I like the AC/DC theme music, and I like the fact that Phil won't be involved in the broadcast this year. Lets move AA back to pit road, Ralph to the booth, and bring in Jim Noble as the 4th pit reporter. Big fan of Jims work. He may be the hardest working reporter in the field today. PRN, Sirius, Racebuddy, ESPN, guy does it all and very well I might add.

Anonymous said...

So JD, How did this whole thing go down?
ESPN things seemed to be in the works for a while, then the Fox Guys just randomly did it?

Anon/J said...

I love the concept. What I don't love - especially with a standard def. tv that is pretty small - is all the wasted space being used for crappy wallpaper and crappier "frames" around the stuff.

Let's skip that, make the racing bigger, make the ad bigger, and get rid of the giant Sprint box (as an example) for something that wraps around, perhaps, in a repeating pattern.

If you're gonna do it, take advantage of the available room, and keep in mind that us Nascar fans are of course broke, beer swilling trailer park folk with sub-20" tv's using antennas and tin foil. :)

I don't mind ads. Gotta pay bills. From the standpoint of a designer, when your penultimate goal is to get as much ad and racing on the screen to lock the viewer into both, sacrificing either to pretty it up is counterproductive.

Have already heard complaints that the race screen is too small.

Sommat to think about, but good show on all the participants.

Anonymous said...

I was so excited when I read about this this morning! I hope the feedback from the fans show how hungry we are for it!

It'll give us options. Yes we may still take a potty break or make a sandwich, see what's on another channel, etc. but but may not do it as often as now.

It really needs to be FT but if advertisers agree to it for even part of a race I'll take it! I've loved it in Indy & will love it here!

As I stated in the other column, I'm often heading straight to Twitter, TDP, wherever once they segway to commercial but just happened to still be watching when the split screen came and had wondered if they'd been doing it all along & I had missed it in my quick switches. But saw posts from others that showed it was the first time.

WickedJ said...

Honestly, JD, i think i speak for damn near every NASCAR fan who wants to throw the remote at the TV when they cut away to a commercial during something good

put quite simply, its about damn time

Anonymous said...

Well at least it is a start!
I totally understand the networks "needing to pay the bills".
But having inane commercials time after time is, well as the saying goes "the definition of insanity is..." You all know the rest.

The same thing goes for broadcasts that NO one likes, and the personalities on those broadcasts that NO one likes.

I could go on and on, but it has been said thousands of times before by many people extremely more talented than I.....

robbiejr said...

If I were you, I wouldn't get too excited about it just yet.

If you remember, when TNT did it, they ran so many side-by-side commercial breaks, it became more of a distraction than a good thing. It seemed like they were running them back to back, which defeated the purpose they were intended to provide. I was screaming at my TV to stop them. So let's see if this happens again before we start celebrating.

GinaV24 said...

It's about time. Making this change is way overdue.

It won't fix some of the other problems that tick me off about the race broadcasts, but if they aren't "in break" every 5 minutes, it certainly will help us keep up with the action -- assuming of course that the director is actually following the race.

Mule said...

I am cautiously optimistic. We're talking about ESPN here. I'm still going to mute the TV and try to dial in on MRN on radio or the web. Definately a step in the right direction, but, IRL was doing it back in 04-05?
Now since Nascar itself has been fighting this so long, when do we get live streams on the internet for our PC's and portable devices?
C'mon here, catch up with technology of today. Should have been working on this since they shed the Winston Cup name.
Ooooopps....My bad. We're talking about BZF here. His father and Grandfather were more forward thinking than he is. Then, I'm not really sure what he's thinking, other than $$$$$$$$$$$.

MRM4 said...

The question remains whether Fox did it and ESPN decided to react to it or Fox knew ESPN was going to do it and beat them to the punch with their experiment. I guess neither side will admit to anything.

Andrew said...


I find it really hard to believe that ESPN reacted to an event that occurred just days before.

FOX knew the announcement was coming. They wanted to look like they had done it first, though ESPN has been finalizing this for months.

KRB said...

I was pissed when I saw the split screen on Sunday. We usually get to see the last 30 laps or so commercial free. Right? We were at about 22 laps to go when the split screen happened. I thought FOX did this because the broadcast was exceptionally short and they wanted to get in as many commercials as possible.

Am I wrong, do we usually only get to see the last 20 laps commercial free?

I completely welcome the shift to split screen and think it will help tremendously.

Now if we could just get those internet streams then we'd be in good shape.

Anonymous said...

Yup @MRM4 what Andrew said is what I've read yesterday. ESPN had been planning all along to announce it on Tuesday & FOX was a literal last minute deal so it made it look like FOX had beaten ESPN to the punch.

The Mad Man said...

It's a step in the right direction. Now if they could also straighten up the poor camera work and God awful commentary in the process, a lot of fans just might be tuning back in.

Anonymous said...

I donno...

I agree that commercials are too long, poorly timed and often just serve to lead viewers away from the broadcast.

However, the photo posted here of ESPN's proposed side by side commercial idea doesn't float my boat.

As someone else pointed out, there's a lot of wasted space there and the "action" is relegated to a fairly small box. The Sprint logo is actually more prominent and is designed to draw the eye away from the on track action. Of course that's what commercials are supposed to do, duh. But it would be a lot less objectionable if there wasn't so much wasted space. There are still a lot of people who don't have 60" TV's.

Also, and perhaps it's the conspiracy theorist coming out in me, but this seems like it could be a slippery slope thing. What if this stuff catches on? Could we be headed to a place where commercials run concurrently with the action during the entire race? Would viewers stand for something like this? Advertisers have been weaseling there way into every little nook and cranny they can. It would seem to me that the ultimate score for them would be to have their junk up there during the entire race.

Yeah, it's crazy. I know.

KoHoSo said...

I agree that this is definitely a step in the right direction and will be looking forward to see how it turns out. I hate to be negative but I also have to be honest...I have been excited about positive-sounding news from ESPN before and have ended up extremely disappointed. ESPN has lost my trust over the years for many reasons, some NASCAR-related and some not. I'm not doing any sort of a happy dance until I see how this is implemented.

That being said, I still applaud ESPN for making this move and trying to make it work. If they do it right, I guarantee that most Planeteers, myself included, will gush like littel schoolgirls over the change.

Newracefan said...

agree about the wasted space and concern that it gives them the opportunity to have even more commercial breaks but.... About Damn Time

robbiejr said...

Anon said: "Could we be headed to a place where commercials run concurrently with the action during the entire race? Would viewers stand for something like this? Advertisers have been weaseling there way into every little nook and cranny they can. It would seem to me that the ultimate score for them would be to have their junk up there during the entire race."

That's the point I was making earlier. TNT came very close to that the first time they ran their side-by-side commercials. Not sure how many of you remember that, but I do. It drove me crazy, because once they started, it seemed they ran them every 4 or 5 minutes, and the racing window was so small I had to put my glasses on to see it. So what's to stop the ad's from running continuously this time? Nothing.

And for those of you who don't remember, wait and see how you feel about this idea when it's ads run every 4 or 5 minutes at the least, and non stop ads in the extreme. I'm afraid you won't be as impressed with the idea as you are now.

The only thing that will make my point moot, is if they don't flood the broadcast with ads. But I'm not holding my breath.

Rich said...

It's about time the networks and advertisers get a clue. I haven't watched a "live" race for more than 2 years(when I first got my DVR). With split-screen, I'd probably watch the race start to finish instead of delaying it an hour to watch on my DVR....

Anonymous said...

Here's the part of ESPN's press release I have to question:

When going to break during NASCAR NonStop, ESPN will utilize a screen wipe tied to an advertiser, with that advertiser occupying the wipe for the rest of the race.

Does that mean the 2nd half of the race we're going to see an advertiser's logo continuously displayed on our screens?

Kenn Fong said...


I only saw a few minutes of Cup this weekend but I keep up by reading you and NASCAR Insiders.

This is great, Fox and ESPN. Better late than never. If I were an advertiser, I'd have been pushing Fox and ESPN to go side-by-side with my spots from the time IRL started it. Why didn't anyone use a bit of common sense? Now I won't use my DVR to skip by the spots.

I might actually watch a race from beginning to end this season.

West Coast Kenny
Alameda, California

Anonymous said...

This will be interesting. I won't say more until we see the final product.

Palmetto said...

Regarding running the ads constantly, anyone else seen soccer coverage? Many international networks do just that for 'football', sacrificing 20% or so on the left and bottom for streaming ads while the match runs continuously in a window in the remaining screen space.

Personally, I wouldn't have a problem with that approach; if nothing else, eliminating the commericial 'bumpers' would mean a lot less of Digger.

Marybeth said...

John, Just read on scenedaily that Michael Waltrip will be in the booth Saturday night instead of Larry Mc. Can you believe...? There is not one comment that thinks this is a good move, my own included. Somebody's head is going to roll, & it needs to. Poor Mike Joy.

Jonathan said...

Sweet! Good to hear like everyone else said ITS ABOUT DAMN TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

The pressue isn't on the TV partners. They would have loved side by side from day 1. It is entirely up to NASCAR and the sponsors to agree to it and still fork over the same amount in ad revenue for a smaller portion of the screen and a distracted audience.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think I'll schedule my first ever high colonic for Saturday night. Has to be better than a double dose of Waltrip

Anonymous said...

Finally -loving the fact that they (TPTB) listened to the fans. I have no idea how ESPN got NASCAR to move forward and embrace some new ideas,however Not looking the gift horse in the mouth. Thank you ESPN

Lois Lane said...

At least during "split screen" commercials, thankfully (if FOX goes that way) it will automatically mute ol' DW...


Fed UP said...

Dear Mr/Ms. Advertiser:

Thank you for allowing the race to be shown as the same your advertisement. In years past I would have missed your commercial showing the wonderful quality of your product thingmabob since I would normally use that time to flip to another chnnel bypassing your commerical until the race came on. Now, I don't have to do that..and your product thingamabob makes me want to go out and even buy it.
Thank You,
Racing Fan

Now, I don't expect an actual advertiser to see this, but think of the possiblilites of showing YOUR product to a larger market.