Sunday, January 16, 2011

Monday TV/Media Notes

It's a big week with lots of news and changes on NASCAR TV scene. Here are some topics of interest as teams get ready to head to Daytona for testing.

Click here for the link to the story on Ricky Craven in the Bangor Daily News. Craven has been slowly working his way up the ladder at ESPN and in 2011 he will be adding seven Nationwide Series races to his existing duties in the ESPN studios.

Craven has been the standout studio analyst for the network, patiently working in a wide variety of circumstances and with a wide variety of on-air talent. ESPN cements a valuable piece of the puzzle with this move. Craven gets a presence in the TV booth in addition to holding down the studio on weekends and appearing on the one-hour NASCAR Now show on Mondays.

ESPN spokesperson Andy Hall told me late last week that the network had no production announcements to make, so we are still awaiting official confirmation that Jamie Shiftan will be producing the network's race coverage. The only on-air personnel shift was Ray Evernham leaving ESPN after agreeing to work for Rick Hendrick.

Over at SPEED, things are popping. Two shows will not be returning for this season. NASCAR in a Hurry was a review show that appeared in an early morning timeslot with video updates of the weekend. Adam Alexander and Randy Pemberton were the hosts.

The second series cancelled was NASCAR Smarts. This show featured host John Roberts asking trivia questions to Kyle Petty, Rutledge Wood and a group of fans or special guests. It began as a part of the sponsorship package, but quickly got off-track and became half-hearted attempt at comedy late last season. Now, it's over.

Instead, SPEED will focus efforts on the NASCAR RaceDay pre-race show that absolutely needed a makeover. While the same on-air talent will be returning, look for substantive changes inside the program. The length will remain at two hours, although specials may extend the show.

Three veteran series will be returning. NASCAR Victory Lane, NASCAR Live and NASCAR Performance are popular shows that have clicked from the start. Originally produced in the field, NASCAR Performance was shifted to the studio in 2010.

This week, will be offering fully-produced long-form live video streaming of three days of Daytona testing. It will be a first for the network and should be interesting to watch online. Friday at noon ET, SPEED will also stream the widely anticipated "competition update" from Daytona. Mike Helton and Robin Pemberton will be explaining the new rules and changes for this season.

Monday should also bring official word from SPEED about a special series of TV programs related to the life and times of Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the tenth anniversary of his untimely passing. As usual, SPEED will be originating over one hundred hours of programming from Daytona. Check back for updates throughout the day.

We welcome your comments on these topics. 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.

Weekend Edition - Remain Calm: All Is Well

Since Kevin Bacon seems to have been in almost every movie ever made, it seems appropriate that he headline this post with one of his classic lines from Animal House. As Omega fraternity pledge Chip Diller, Bacon's plea for calm in the midst of chaos was met with a thorough trampling from the panicked crowd.

Monday afternoon, reporter Dave Rodman broke the story that drivers in the top three NASCAR series must declare in advance of the season in which one series they want to score championship points. Click here to read the article.

Rodman's information came from two drivers, Kenny Wallace and Brad Keselowski. NASCAR declined comment on Rodman's story. The next public appearance of NASCAR officials will be Friday, January 21 at a press conference in Daytona. So, it will be about ten days until Rodman's information will be officially verified.

In the meantime, there are a lot of drivers, sponsors and teams who are trying to digest this information and sort-out plans for the upcoming season with little time to do so. It's going to be interesting to see just how many of the Sprint Cup Series drivers continue to cross-over to the the Nationwide side without the ability to compete for the driver's championship.

The members-only media website NASCAR provides for updates and information contains nothing about the single series championship selection for drivers. There is also no information about rumored changes to the Chase format like additional points for wins or even how many Sprint Cup Series teams will be competing for the championship.

Rodman's article set off a chain of events that resulted in hundreds of stories on the single series topic being posted online in all kinds of media outlets. One thing is very clear, the fans are looking for information and there is precious little for reporters and bloggers to provide.

In Daytona, NASCAR President Mike Helton and Senior VP Robin Pemberton are going to offer what is being called a competition update. Whether or not these two will even address the Sprint Cup Series rules changes is still up for speculation. Therein lies the problem.

While NASCAR is famous for changing rules of a technical nature when things require, the current discussion is not about spoiler angles, tire pressure or track bars. What is on the table is yet another restructuring of the top series in the sport for one reason and that is TV ratings.

Here is a reader comment from Monday's story about Brian France excusing himself from the Daytona press conference:

Last season, the racing action was really top-notch. The Chase produced an exciting, dramatic finish. The rules package allowed for excitement. The drivers let their personalities shine. In many ways, it was one of the best years of racing ever.

And yet, the TV coverage has been nothing short of awful.

So, here's an idea: how about instead of pulling all the drivers into meetings and constantly tweaking the rules in ways that upset the fans and diminish the credibility of the sport... maybe Brian France and company should be having town hall meetings with the broadcast networks.

We don't need rules changes - we just need TV directors who know where to put a camera, and TV announcers who can keep viewers from napping!

That comment begs the question of just what exactly France is fixing with the pending Chase changes? Cleaning up the Nationwide Series and giving younger drivers a chance is one thing, but altering the Sprint Cup Series format that brought a down-to-the-wire championship is another.

When ESPN saddles up against an NFL game and televises a Chase race, it has not been the racing that is the issue. In column after column on this site and in comment after comment on the Internet the refrain is the same. ESPN simply does not have the production team to create compelling NASCAR TV.

In the time between the original ESPN contract and now, the entire ESPN family made a very purposeful shift to the stick-and-ball world. Huge new contracts for college and pro product were combined with the network selling the BASS franchise, dropping IndyCar and pushing the NHRA to the back burner.

If this is the direction that the network wants to proceed, that's absolutely fine. The problem comes in the fact that millions of fans are once again trying to make the decision of whether or not to spend several months with Darrell Waltrip, a summer with Kyle Petty and then a Chase run with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree.

Changing the rules instead of the TV coverage is simply going to result in an additional loss of fan interest in my opinion. Fix what is blatantly wrong before tinkering with a concept that is not broken. The issues on the table are easy to understand.

Prop up the FOX and ESPN Sprint Cup Series coverage with RaceBuddy for every event. Interact with comments from Facebook and Twitter during all the telecasts to make the fans feel included. Offer practice and qualifying coverage online for fans away from a TV.

Insist the Sprint Cup Series TV networks use side-by-side commercial breaks so almost one-third of the racing is not covered by advertising. Move the Nationwide Series events to SPEED once college football begins as ESPN does not have a suitable telecast window for these races.

Chase changes like more teams, forced eliminations and different points are not going to solve the problems TV has brought. The vast majority of NASCAR fans consume the sport through television. When they can't see their favorite driver, don't get the basic scoring information and never get differing opinions from the talking points of the sanctioning body there is little left to consume.

Where are you right now in thinking about watching the sport this season? Are you waiting for the rules changes or dreading them? Do you remember ESPN from last season down the stretch or simply looking forward to a new year with DW and FOX?

We invite your comments on these topics. 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.