Saturday, August 27, 2011
A Fly In The Ointment Named Irene
The late Howard Cosell used a phrase when things started to get interesting on the football field. "We have a developing situation!" he would yell.
Well, that certainly is true for the planned ABC coverage of the Sprint Cup Series race from Bristol, TN this Saturday night. Hurricane Irene is chugging up the Eastern Seaboard.
If the race was scheduled for ESPN, there would not be an issue. Cable TV just keeps rolling right along when bad weather is striking an area of the country. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for both local TV stations and their network news big brothers.
Looking at The Weather Channel map pictured above, the timeline of the current storm puts it coming on shore in the outer banks of North Carolina late Saturday afternoon. As hurricane veterans know, that spins lots of "feeder bands" of thick rain and high winds out from the storm.
Those are the kind of regional weather issues that cause local stations to cut into or preempt programming for updates and radar views. Having a significant number of ABC stations in the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland breaking away at that time to track the storm throughout the evening could impact the race coverage.
The bigger story looming on the horizon is that if Irene continues on her current path we are going to see New Jersey, New York and most of New England impacted by a major hurricane. That story may take on new meaning Saturday evening.
Thursday afternoon a state of emergency had already been declared in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Evacuations of hospitals and nursing homes had begun in areas of New York City. There is little doubt Friday will bring an even more heightened state of urgency.
By the time Saturday evening, primetime for TV networks, comes around there is going to have to be a decision made to either show the race from Bristol or move to national network news coverage of the impending storm situation.
Remember, broadcast networks and TV stations operate to serve the public. These are government regulated over-the-air businesses that are under a lot of pressure to serve as the information conduit to the public in time of need.
Luckily, there is a very viable alternative available and it can all be traced to the NFL preseason. In several markets, the ABC stations on Saturday night are already contracted to show a preseason game. That meant that ESPN had to provide a way for those markets to see the race.
The solution was to use ESPN2 in those areas for NASCAR. The same kind of technology ESPN uses to handle blackouts for events like college basketball was brought into play to get the race into the homes affected by football.
Simply put, ESPN uses zip codes to switch groups of viewers from one signal to another. Thanks to the NFL, the live race will already be underway to selected viewers. This opens the door to lots of solutions.
If an ABC station decides to dedicate the evening to live storm programming, then perhaps ESPN will use some switching technology and make an effort to get the ESPN2 program authorized for viewers in that area. Of course, the priority is not NASCAR for some folks and that is absolutely understood.
Should ABC decide to dedicate primetime on Saturday to the hurricane, ESPN can simply use ESPN2 and show the race nationwide. Either way, it's an interesting comparison between the two very different systems in the country for distribution of TV content.
We will use this post for updates from ESPN about this situation as they happen. In the meantime, please feel free to leave us a comment by clicking on the comment button below. As someone who has been through three hurricanes here in Florida, I hope all our readers affected by this storm stay safe and sound. Remember, there is always another race.