Tuesday, June 21, 2011
NASCAR cut the pie into three pieces where the Sprint Cup Series TV contract was concerned. Sandwiched between the high-profile FOX and ESPN portions of the schedule is the tiny little slice of the pie that was left for TNT.
Once coined as the summer six-pack, TNT has one big race at Daytona and five other races that are not exactly the pick of the litter. The response of the network has been to become the outlaws of NASCAR TV. The idea is to be different.
Wally Dallenbach Jr. has been gone from NASCAR for a long time. Kyle Petty works fulltime for SPEED and only takes his hat off for the TNT races. Adam Alexander used to be SPEED's pit reporter for the truck series. The TV booth for the TNT races is different.
TNT's infield rig is outdoors. The wind blows, the sun shines and with the push of a button it begins a nauseating spin that redefines motion sickness on a big HDTV screen. One of my personal highlights was pit reporter Marty Snider stealing the controls and continually rotating then host Bill Weber during a rain delay. Weber's screams of protest were to no avail. TNT's infield set-up is different.
The shining jewel of this package isn't on TV at all. RaceBuddy is the free online application that is run through the NASCAR.com website, which Turner Sports operates. This year, users have ten video sources including four in-car cameras, two different battle cams and views of both the backstretch and pit road. It works on iPhones, iPads and pops right up on the Sprint Mobile app as well. TNT's online approach is different.
In the first season of the new TV contract, we published a story in June of 2007. "TNT Dumps NASCAR For Van Helsing Movie" was the title. Click here to read the full post. Basically, after the race at MIS our friends at TNT left the air to actually start a scheduled movie 15 minutes early.
The theory from the entertainment-driven network was that the movie would get more viewers because the NASCAR race had just ended. There was a little problem with that theory. That problem would be called NASCAR fans.
On that occasion TNT interviewed the winner, both DEI drivers and then sprinted for the airplane while the movie started. Today, things are a bit different. After this year's MIS race TNT left the air eight minutes ahead of the scheduled off-time for the race coverage. But, this time they had a reason.
After also leaving early at Pocono, the TNT explanation was simple. After a basic post-race show on TV, a full post-race show would appear on RaceBuddy over at the NASCAR.com website. Sure enough, once the MIS coverage was off the air up popped Lindsay Czarniak and Larry McReynolds on the Internet.
This duo hosted another 15 minutes or so of coverage that included additional driver interviews, highlights and analysis from McReynolds. All the pit reporters were used and it basically had the exact same quality as the network TV coverage. The only problem was that it wasn't on TV.
In moving to a strictly Internet environment for post-race in order to switch TV quickly back to entertainment programming, TNT cuts-off all the NASCAR fans who are not online. If my feedback is any judge, that seems to be an awful lot of folks.
Whether the issue is the economy, technology or simply choice there were a lot of upset fans when TNT strolled off to Internet land. Fundamentally, it seems strange that after a pre-race show and then a live race telecast that TNT wants fans to watch for hours, there would be a problem with a full post-race show.
Back in 2007 at MIS, Michael Waltrip had finally finished in the top ten driving a MWR car. That was a big moment. Kyle Busch had finished sixth in the middle of career chaos. Casey Mears was fourth and Jamie McMurray was eighth as both fought to keep their rides. None of that made TNT.
This year, that type of content was also not on TV. Instead, the same promomotional reel for the new season of TNT shows that viewers saw after Pocono was on the air after MIS. Despite the fact that the post-race went on for those online, TV viewers got the short end of the stick.
While there were billions of dollars spent by the NASCAR TV partners on the current contract, perhaps this is not exactly what NASCAR intended back in 2007 when the TV pie was sliced.
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There they were, David Hill from FOX/SPEED and Mike Helton from NASCAR. While they were together on Helton's ranch shooting skeet, Hill apparently floated the idea of moving some Sprint Cup Series races from broadcast TV to cable.
Monday, details of that conversation appeared in The Sports Business Journal. Click here for the link to read the story. Excerpts from that story appear below.
Fox has held informal discussions with NASCAR about a new TV rights agreement that would allow the network to put some of its Sprint Cup races on Speed.
David Hill, Fox Sports chairman, said Fox would like to see some of the 13 regular-season races it televises on Speed. A Fox source said the company could ask for as many as six races for the network.
Hill said that Fox always intended to carry Sprint Cup races on Speed, which Fox launched in 2002 after acquiring the channel, then named Speedvision, from Comcast and Cox.
The move would allow Speed to use live NASCAR broadcasts to increase the license fee that cable and satellite operators pay each month, which is currently around 30 cents, according to sources.
Hill stressed that the joint venture talks were casual. He said that he and NASCAR President Mike Helton discuss a variety of opportunities when they get together to shoot skeet at Helton’s ranch in the Southeast.
There are several interesting issues with this story. First, Helton has absolutely nothing to do with NASCAR TV. In fact, he runs an entirely different division of the sport. Secondly, since neither of the SBJ reporters were present for the skeet shooting outing, we can assume FOX delivered this content to them directly.
SPEED is a cable TV network that has a dual revenue stream. That means it sells ads but also gets a monthly fee for carriage from cable and satellite providers. Moving a series of Sprint Cup races to SPEED would then allow the company to charge providers, and ultimately consumers, more for the product.
Hill was replaced as the head of FOX Sports last year by Eric Shanks. The new challenge given to Hill was to take control of SPEED and increase the value of the network. Hill immediately put his old friend Patti Wheeler in charge of the day-to-day production and programming. Wheeler is still in the process of shaking things up.
Currently, SPEED is distributed in 78 million homes in the US. This number is far short of the 100 million ESPN used as a key reason to move NASCAR from ABC over to cable. As many of you know, SPEED-HD continues to roll-out nationwide. Any way you look at it, SPEED's total numbers are far short of enabling a move of top-line product from broadcast.
David Hill talks a lot. As an Aussie, he loves to play with the media and in this case seems to have done a very good job. He used The Sports Business Journal to deliver a well-crafted message that served his purpose. He kicked open the door to splitting the NASCAR on FOX package in two pieces between broadcast and cable.
Don't expect this issue to be on the table for years to come. The current NASCAR TV contract locks-in the parties until 2014. Rumors of NASCAR taking a partnership role in SPEED have never panned out. Don't forget, SPEED's move to Charlotte was to become "The NASCAR Network." Instead, it has never established an identity.
Finally, it certainly is interesting that this story just happens to come out one day after the second TNT Sprint Cup Series telecast. You have to wonder about the fan reaction had this "information" been available during the NASCAR on FOX portion of the season. Hill continues to be a master of the media.
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