Thursday, May 10, 2007

"NASCAR Now" Started Early And Junior Fans Missed Out

Like many Americans, I do not have the luxury of arriving home before 6:30PM Eastern or 3:30PM Pacific Time each and every day. Since I am a NASCAR fan, I set my DVR to record NASCAR Now, the only daily racing TV show on the air. After hearing Dale Earnhardt Jr. make his announcement earlier in the day, I was very excited to hear the opinions and information of the NASCAR Now reporters and experts.

Imagine my surprise when I "rolled" my recorded program only to join Jeff Burton in mid-sentence about Junior and DEI. I was even more surprised to hear host Erik Kuselias welcome those viewers "just joining us." Kuselias explained this was an expanded version of NASCAR Now. ESPN had gone from ignoring the "Junior leaves DEI" story almost totally on Wednesday, to expanding NASCAR Now to one hour on Thursday.

There is only one small problem with this situation. As any television executive will tell you, programs are expanded on the "tail" of the show. Remember when "Nightline with Ted Koppel" would expand when something was in-progress? It didn't start earlier, it got longer. The entire point of expanding a TV news program at the "tail" is to attract the normal audience, get them informed, and then keep them for the extended time with good content.

When ESPN made the decision to expand NASCAR Now at the "head" by starting it at 6PM Eastern, they had none of the regular audience that tunes in at 6:30PM. They had none of the DVR/Tivo/VCR crowd that records the program, and no one who might be using a TV guide. Had they only made the commitment to begin the show on-time, and then expand it to 7:30 PM they would have hit a home run.

The Daly Planet viewers who caught the first thirty minutes of this program did so across the board by accident. They stumbled upon it, and thought it was strange to see the NASCAR Now gang thirty minutes early. I am told that this extra time was chocked-full of Andy Petree, Angelique Chengelis, Marty Smith, and many others. Apparently, veteran Mike Massaro had an exclusive interview with Steve Hmiel from DEI. There is a rumor that Rusty Wallace also appeared and threw in his two cents.

The problem is, none of that mattered to the 99% of NASCAR fans who tuned-in on time to see the show. None of the above content was repeated in the regular show time. Marty Smith, who appeared in the 6:30-7PM version, even referenced a feature piece that none of the "regular viewers" saw. How is this fair to those NASCAR fans who have been watching this show since it began in February?

Dr. Jerry Punch stopped by to say that this story was as big or bigger than the actual death of Earnhardt Sr. at Daytona. His point was well made that nothing has prepared us for a story like this, in much the same way that nothing prepared us for the untimely death of Dale Sr. As The Daly Planet said yesterday, this was the story of the year so far in the 2007 NASCAR season. It makes Toyota's struggles pale in comparison. It even bumps Michael Waltrip out of yet another race.

Yesterday, we took ESPN to task for not assigning any resources to this huge breaking story, not following up in the NASCAR Now show, and not re-taping a new version of the show for the midnight eastern time re-air. Today, the tables are completely turned. With all the ESPN resources on full display, with all the NASCAR Now heavy hitters weighing in, and with all the breaking news being reported, the network shoots itself in the foot again.

Simply by starting NASCAR Now on-time, and expanding the program at the "tail," regular viewers tuning-in on time would have been able to simply "stay" and watch the entire hour. The DVR/Tivo/VCR gang would have recorded the normal show time, and gotten all the best Junior "stuff." Unfortunately, NASCAR Now chose not to repeat the best "stuff" during the normal show time of 6:30 to 7PM Eastern. That was tough to take.

Finally, the non-NASCAR folks who were attracted by all the "Junior fuss" would have checked the TV Guide and tuned-in to the show on time. What a great opportunity to attract new fans to this TV series, and the sport. Starting the show on time clearly should have been the decision by the network. What a shame that NASCAR Now did its best thirty minutes ever, and almost no one saw it.

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