Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Last Minute Deal Brings NASCAR Content Online

Since 2007 we have been describing the stand-off between Turner Sports, the online rights holder for NASCAR, and two of the sport's key media partners, ESPN and FOX.

Veteran reporter Dustin Long of Landmark Newspapers is reporting that Turner and ESPN have made a last minute deal to settle most of those differences. Basically, the agreement involves some good old fashioned horse trading. Click here to read Long's complete story.

ESPN has an online service called Watch ESPN. This allows existing cable customers of Time Warner, Bright House and Verizon FiOS access to the ESPN networks online. It gives devices like laptops, iPads and smart phones streaming of all things ESPN.

What the Watch ESPN app did not have was NASCAR. Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and the daily NASCAR Now program were all blacked-out because Turner held the online rights. Those shows could be watched on TV, but not online.

Meanwhile, Turner has been working hard to expand the RaceBuddy franchise as a part of the online package of goodies that the website can offer. This year RaceBuddy was available for the six TNT Sprint Cup Series races, all of the truck series races and several non-points events carried by SPEED.

Since 2007 ESPN has been enforcing the TV exclusivity that prohibits Turner from using any live racetrack footage online. ESPN paid a pretty penny for the final 17 Sprint Cup Series races and the door has been tightly shut to allowing any of that content destined for TV to be used for RaceBuddy.

As Long reported, in the agreement scheduled to be announced Wednesday, both Turner and ESPN have made moves that ultimately benefit their own agendas. NASCAR fans just happen to benefit as well.

Turner allows ESPN to stream Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and the NASCAR Now show on the Watch ESPN service. ESPN allows Turner to use live race video and audio in a Sprint Cup Series version of RaceBuddy. Ultimately, both sides walk away happy.

NASCAR fans might need a second to sort all this out. Those with existing Watch ESPN service will now get to see that NASCAR content online. Folks who have Comcast or other major cable companies who do not offer Watch ESPN are still out of luck. The Charlotte race is on ABC and is not in this package, just the other nine races.

Meanwhile anyone with online access can get the RaceBuddy application through the website. The new version will have two mosaic (mix) video boxes with four windows each for a total of eight video sources. Whatever in-car cameras are chosen will also have the team scanner.

This version of RaceBuddy will have a live leaderboard, social media chatting and Raceview's position tracker. It will be similar to the layout used for the TNT races this year. RaceBuddy is a great way to see live video when the race is in commercial break and watch different coverage angles for more track views.

What RaceBuddy does not provide is actual streaming of the finished race program that ESPN viewers will be seeing. None of the eight video sources is the actual "race." This protects ESPN by forcing those without the Watch ESPN service back to the TV set.

In the end, fans do win because more access is great. RaceBuddy is a solid online race companion and Watch ESPN will allow folks nationwide to catch the live video on any kind of handheld device or tablet. Hopefully, positive feedback from both these developments will lead to some additional online content sharing and development between these two parties in the future.

While the timing of this deal may seem strange, it's really not. NASCAR, ESPN and Turner are all standing on the beach and seeing the same thing. There is a huge wave approaching and it is timed to hit on Sunday afternoon. The NFL is back and NASCAR is poised to take a huge hit in the TV ratings.

One glance at NFL Sunday Ticket, NFL Red Zone, NFL Mobile and the NFL Network coming straight at NASCAR's ten little races is pretty good motivation to make something happen. The NFL seems poised for its strongest TV ratings in history.

It's been a long road to these changes. Thanks to all the TDP readers who have consistently made their voices heard on these issues. While there are some additional online and production issues to solve, this is a nice present for a tired fan base watching NASCAR since February.

If any additional details are made public, this post will be updated on Wednesday throughout the day.

We invite your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.