Monday, August 13, 2012

Rewind: The Need For SPEED

The rumblings of change within the FOX Sports Media Group are growing louder. The switch of FUEL TV from outdoor and extreme sports to mixed martial arts and boxing is essentially done. The deadline is now approaching for a decision by NASCAR to allow the FOX Broadcast Network to continue to carry Sprint Cup Series races after 2014 and maybe even add some additional dates to the mix.

All of this brings us back to SPEED, which is owned by FOX. Race Hub on Monday through Thursday is the only NASCAR content even on the fringe of weekday primetime. After airing for a while at 7PM ET, the network moved the series to 6PM and promised an 11PM Eastern/8PM Pacific replay. Months ago, that replay was cancelled.

That means that this season, NASCAR fans who want news content from SPEED have to either watch at 6PM, watch a replay at 7AM the next morning or record the show. Years ago, NASCAR's other major TV partner, ESPN, moved the network's NASCAR Now program to 3PM on weekdays with no regularly scheduled repeat. NASCAR said nothing.

The column that follows was originally published on June 20 subsequent to a news story on the topic from the Sports Business Daily folks in Charlotte, NC. Since that time former FOX Sports Chairman David Hill, who made the original TV deal, has left that division which he founded. Hill is working on new programming for the Nat Geo Channel and other FOX properties.

Here is a second look at the column on SPEED and the network's role in NASCAR:

A recent story in Sports Business Daily reported that FOX Sports was involved in negotiations with NASCAR about a new TV contract. The current one expires at the end of 2014. A tweet from a FOX announcer then suggested the new deal may include even more Sprint Cup Series races than the current agreement. That started the ball rolling on a discussion about another key NASCAR TV partner.

SPEED is the cable TV network that facilitates the vast majority of the NASCAR TV programming throughout the season. The network is a staple at the track on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The coverage includes practice, qualifying and NASCAR news shows. SPEED is owned and operated by the FOX Sports Media Group.

The secret to the shows from the tracks is that these programs are not actually produced by SPEED, but are handled by NASCAR's own in-house TV team. That division used to be called the NASCAR Media Group but was recently downsized and renamed NASCAR Productions. Neither FOX or SPEED have an ownership stake in NASCAR Productions.

Over the past six years, we have repeatedly wondered what was going on at SPEED. Various management teams made decisions that virtually eliminated all traces of NASCAR programming on Monday through Thursday in primetime. "Automotive lifestyle" programming was the order of the day. No other network has aired and then cancelled more of these low-brow reality-style shows than SPEED.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, other broadcast networks have quietly gone about the business of building or buying a cable TV network for sports. CBS and NBC now have national cable sports networks that allow them to partner on programming just like ABC and ESPN. The odd man out at the table is FOX.

Click here for the story from the Sports Business Journal about the Fox Sports 1 cable network. Never heard of it? You may be hearing that name once the current NASCAR TV contract expires. In theory, it would replace SPEED on the cable dial and shutter the motorsports-themed network.

Rebranding SPEED and turning it into a national cable sports network run from Los Angeles would put FOX on an even keel with NBC, CBS and ABC. Any TV contract done for the FOX broadcast network could now facilitate what is called "shoulder programming" on cable. For instance, the Preakness might be shown on NBC but all the preliminary races and coverage of the entire day would be on NBC Sports Network on cable.

The sad part of this arrangement would be the end of SPEED as we know it. The network was originally launched as SpeedVision and featured programming split between cars, boats, airplanes and motorcycles. The subsequent purchase by FOX and move to Charlotte, NC was to turn the network into a dedicated NASCAR channel. Those plans never came to fruition even after the move.

It seems ironic that the network that hosted more "shoulder programming" for NASCAR over the past decade may be done. That raises the issue of just what kind of an extension FOX is trying to negotiate for Sprint Cup Series races. The door is open for all kinds of speculation.

Keeping all that weekend NASCAR programming on the new mainstream Fox Sports 1 network would seemingly be impossible. The season runs for ten months and SPEED airs hundreds of hours of programming from the Sprint Cup Series tracks.

It would also seem that other motorsports series from Grand-Am to ARCA would be impacted. The list of programming currently on SPEED also includes Formula One, AMA Supercross and the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auctions.

One peek at the current SPEED on-air schedule should convince skeptics that the network has effectively shuttered the development of new series. From five year-old Pimp My Ride shows to endless Dumbest Stuff on Wheels re-airs, it is clear that something is going on and it is not good.

It is important to note that FOX has two additional cable networks, FUEL and FX, that could be used to distribute additional motorsports programming. FUEL is already undergoing a transition with UFC shows airing while FX has been used in the past for NASCAR programming.

While it may seem that 2014 is far away, in fact the negotiations for the new contract are far behind schedule. Since the incumbents get first shot, it is interesting to note that very little information exists about the future of TNT and ESPN in the sport. Turner just returned all the digital rights to NASCAR and effective January 1 will no longer operate the website.

ESPN is loaded with college and NFL football content after September and has been struggling to give NASCAR a fair shake down the stretch. The final ten Sprint Cup Series Chase races are the prize to that network and that may be the only real item that is pursued.

Currently no comment from the FOX folks on the NASCAR or SPEED issue. Whatever happens, it is becoming clear that there will be substantive changes in the look of NASCAR TV after 2014 and maybe much sooner than that for the network we now know as SPEED.

For those asking about the changes in progress to shows like Trackside and Wind Tunnel, this topic is for you. While SPEED's primetime line-up is still dominated by non-motorsports scripted reality shows like Hard Parts: The Bronx, the opportunity certainly exists to help the sport grow by inserting some regularly scheduled NASCAR programming down the stretch.

There was a time when SPEED jumped on the bandwagon and surrounded the build-up to the Chase and the run down the stretch to Homestead. This year, no additional regularly scheduled programs or series have been added. Apparently, NASCAR racing reality still does not top the scripted reality that SPEED has force-fed motorsports fans for years.

We invite your opinion on this topic. Comments may be moderated prior to posting.


Anonymous said...

I'd be willing to bet that they move all the SPEED TV content to FUEL, and move all the FUEL TV content to Fox Sports 1. All the UFC, Boxing, Motocross stuff could easily be moved to Fox Sports 1.

There's really no reason to keep the current FUEL TV if they're starting up a sports network. Considering the majority of that network is all UFC stuff now, almost a UFC channel.

Buschseries61 said...

I guess the track owners will be happy, less racing on tv means people have to come to the track to watch the races.

Mike in Pittsburgh said...

Fox neutered Speedvision then ruined the nascar shows with their poor choice of on air and in the truck personnel. I'll miss the Grand Am, K@N, and the Outlaws but the nascar stuff has been painful anyway.

Allen (@Bedgood5) said...

I've been saying for about a year now SPEED either needs to but shut down or SEVERELY revamped. I thought SPEED was what it sounded like... a motorsports network! But no we're stuck with re-runs of Pimp My Ride? C'mon man... tell me the ratings for stuff like that and Unique Whips. Lest we forget freakin' Car Warriors...

@andystrater said...

Interesting stuff. It'd be a shame if the weekend track coverage of practices would be lost in the shuffle. The changes to Wind Tunnel are ridiculous. I just don't get how a channel geared towards racing shows pretty much anything but racing programs during the week. This all adds up to a doomed network. I watch less and less.

The Loose Wheel said...

What about the regional FOX Sports Networks? In the past when NASCAR first aired on FOX, SPEED and FSN were used to air Totally NASCAR and other NASCAR content. They went away from that after a season or two and primarily only used SPEED. What would be the point of closing up SPEED when you already have FSN regional networks on cable dials. Consolidating those into one network makes more sense to me, but perhaps they view the motorsports networks as expendable...

I have noticed SPEED seems to be promoing an online-type "SPEED 2", is it possible that a primarily online network could be in the future as well?

scarletandmaize said...

I wish I had the money to start The NASCAR Network.

17972 B. C. said...

Loose Wheel, part of the problem with the FSN system is distribution, Here in Eastern Pa, we are Comcast driven, and until we got Root from Pittsburgh this spring, we only got FSN programs as Comcast filler, never had the original Totally NASCAR and stuff like that. We are also as far East as Root goes, so there is no FSN in the Philly region, plus regionals have first loyalties to their local stuff, which creates conflicts too.

200 channels I have and Fuel is not one of them, so if they end up with the Racing packages I have issues i guess.

GinaV24 said...

Seems that NASCAR AND Fox seem to want to make less and less racing programming available to the fans on TV. Many of the changes in timing and/or style of programming have resulted in my decision to watch less of what is left of NASCAR programming on TV.

So now they will get rid of speed and maybe put something else on another cable channel? Hmmm, is that something I'll have to pay another fee to see? I upgraded years ago to get Speed AND ESPN classic (when they used to show the old races). Many of my friends have cancelled their cable service altogether preferring to use online services like netflix and hulu (even though they pay for those too) to keep up with any TV programs they might want to see.

I have to say that I am also thinking about it - there is less and less actually ON that I want to watch. The race coverage is so poor that I use trackpass and twitter and this blog to follow along so my biggest reason for having cable is less compelling.

GinaV24 said...

Nate, I am in Southern NJ and had the same issues when I had comcast. I moved to Fios and apparently I still don't see that programming.

I don't believe I have fuel either and I am not planning on paying more money to get it. NASCAR programming does not provide enough value for me at this point. They'd have to improve it significantly for me to spend more money.

Sophia said...

The biggest loss to people I know (None who watch NASCAR) will be the Loss of SPEED's coverage on Formula one races.

If it goes to somebody else like ESPN or something, the three beloved guys who MAKE the broadcast fun will be gone. My housemate loves the chemistry of the booth.

One of those hosts already said in a Q&A on twitter the other night, if it went to ESPN they would NOT keep their jobs :-(

I hardly watch SPEED anymore except for WT and then, depending upon who's on. I used to listen to the half hour online afterwards as it's commercial free but have not done so anymore.

WT deserves MORE TV TIME. So to lose and that F1 will be the biggest lost.

Fox does not care. Speed does not care what the fans LOVE and ENJOY.

Heck, look what's become of NASCAR? It's a distant after thought to most of us?

Remember when we used to read Jayski first thing in the morning?

yea, me neither :(

MRM4 said...

I'm aggravated they have removed all replays of Wind Tunnel. With the time the show comes on being moved around from one week to the next, it's hard to keep up with when it's on. I could record it and may start doing that. Still, not providing replays when garbage shows are on is a complete failure.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with Sophia. The biggest loss of any of this will be the commentators for F1 on Speed. Perhaps they will land elsewhere however.

As to the decline in Nascar programming, how much of it is strictly a dollars and cents issue? The networks have to show something 24/7/365, they have no choice. So is it that reruns of "Pimp my Ride" are more profitably than the racing shows? If so the future is dim.

Anonymous said...

Nascar could improve all ratings by banning Rutledge, Spencer and Despain.

17972 B. C. said...

Even if Speed get transformed, they will still need programming,and with the time of day most F1 events are, and Fox owning a lot of F1 rights around the globe, do not necessarily think F1 leaves the Fox grasp

Anonymous said...

"I am very happy with our tv partners! Everything is gooood!" MC

Joj said...

I watch SPEED -if- its racing. By that I mean NASCAR, World of Outlaws, K &N, Grand AM, you know racing.

I do not watch SPEED that often, since its all fake-ality or nonsense shows. Trackside is a mess, Victory Lane rarely, Wind Tunnel usually. Thats it.

The future doesn't seem great for racing of any kind on SPEED. Probably cause its not "reality"

I sometimes feel as if I'm the only person on the planet who isn't watching the talentless talent shows, fake reality/actuality shows. Just never liked them.

Long Time Fan (but waning) said...

I've said it before, and I'm saying it again.

"Nascar's downfall is directly connected to its screwing with "Inside (Winson, Nextel, Sprint) Cup" TV show". Firing Alan B. was the worst decision Speed TV (at the insistance of their Nascar overlords) could ever have made.

I say, bring back stock cars with real factory differences and screw tring to make them equal, and then have a Monday recap show with real drivers and knowleable Emcee that can "lose control" with class and dignity. That will be the best promotion Nascar could do, but those dunderheads just don't get what the real appeal of Nascar used to be.

Anonymous said...

FOX Regional Network solution will not work. As I understand it FOX owns very little of the networks and most are only affiliates anyway. Any FOX programming can be pre-empmted by a local sporting event or such. This is why Radeday and the NASCAR show Byrnes did were moved to SPEED as there was not 100% clearance. Also FSN's do not cover all markets.

Fuel is not on as many cable systems as SPEED so that may not be the best solution and no guarantee it will happen anyway.

Sophia said...

Long Time Fan.

Ditto. The only thing that kept me hanging on was the Monday night show when I first got SPEED...then they changed it and when they changed host and later, dumped Schrader, it stunk.

I felt like friends were on my couch yakking about races, with some teasing. Now everything is so "sterile/forced" on Speed. The only real opinions are from Despain and his hour show is NOT enough.

I don't always feel like turning on the laptop for WT "Extra"

Believe it or not. the world does NOT revolved around smart phones (though that marketers will tell you different as people over 40 or 50 don't COUNT !)

Or being online.

NOTHING, ticks me off more than to watch a news show/race show/talk show and be told for 'more information go to our website...blah, blah, blah

Also I Love Twitter but the saturation point and corporate stuff has ruined it. I only mostly interact with some locals.

Never was a fan of FB

AveryNH said...

I am an avid fan of the f1 coverage on speed. It's amazing to think that nearly ten years ago my weeknights consisted of inside Winston cup. Ol NBS 24/7 and of course wind tunnel. Hell I remember the days of totally NASCAR on my local fox sports network. Crazy that its now owned By Comcast. As for fuel I remember when it was surfing and skateboarding. I never really watched it but its a shame that NASCAR may be relegated to what is pretty much the UFC network. Hell even speed has ufc programing which in my mind is the most ridiculous thing. Screw fox

Buschseries61 said...

The ESPN effort at Iowa really shows there is still the need for SPEED. ESPN is back to tight shots of 1 or 2 cars and lousy play-by-play. SPEED did such a good job here with the Trucks!

stop talking now said...

A good job with the Trucks? If you
mean non stop CHATTER BLABBER
you are right. They havent shut up
since forever
What we dont need is More mikey
and his jam the air waves with