Thursday, June 7, 2007

Dish Network Ruins "The Dream" For NASCAR Fans

Wednesday night was intended to be one big dirt-track racing party for fans across the nation. Tony Stewart and twenty-five of his racing buddies were going up to Eldora Speedway in Ohio to have some fun. Tony had put together a night of NASCAR and NHRA drivers taking to the half mile dirt track in Late Model Stock cars. The idea was to have that fun while raising funds for the Victory Junction Gang Camp. This is a cause near and dear to the hearts of many in NASCAR, especially Tony.

This was the third year of this "one night stand," but this time something was different. Television had come to Eldora, in the form of "the pros" from Fox Sports and the facilities of HBO. This year, the entire evening of The Prelude to the Dream would be on pay-per-view. A one time fee would get viewers an exclusive night of racing the likes of which had never been "seen" before.

While HBO was the "host" for the pay-per-view event, other companies that offer satellite feeds directly to viewers also participated. One of those companies was the Dish Network. This twenty-five year old company offers high-tech direct satellite service to homes and commercial facilities. They serve over thirteen million customers nationwide.

The Prelude to the Dream was a live sporting event that was scheduled for 7PM to 10PM Eastern Time. As with most sports, there are always circumstances that cause a program to run a bit longer than scheduled. This was especially true for this pay-per-view offering, because it only had a "created" format. There was no shot clock, there were no referees keeping track of the quarters, and there was no scoreboard in the end zone telling everyone how much time was left in the game. This was auto racing, and much like baseball, when it was was over.

The Dish Network broadcast went on the air without a glitch. Subscribers paid their fee and ordered an exclusive night of racing under the lights in the Midwest. As the evening continued to showcase exciting racing action, it was clear that "the Feature" was going to occur after the scheduled "off" time of 10PM. This was absolutely not a problem, because the organizers had told the satellite companies that this was a live charity sporting event. Everyone understood that The Prelude to the Dream would be over when the last lap of "the Feature" was complete.

Apparently, someone at the Dish Network Operations Center was asleep at the wheel. Dish Network subscribers nationwide have emailed The Daly Planet to say that at 10PM, the suggested "end time" of this event, their screens went black. This suggests that the "computer" had been scheduled to end their pay-per-view access at a certain time, as if they had ordered a movie, and not a sporting event. Any Network Operations Coordinator monitoring this event would have had plenty of time to determine that it was not going to end at the "suggested" off time.

The correct course of action would have been simply to enable the computer to continue the pay-per-view access on this channel to the subscribers who were watching a sporting event in progress. Readers have stated that this occurred after the "B Main" and that only after a black screen for thirty minutes did a graphic appear telling them to turn to another channel for the end of the event.

Several readers immediately tried to call Dish Network, but were kept on hold for over thirty minutes. This is not a hard problem to fix, unless the manpower was not available and all that was running the show was a computer programmed earlier in the day. Most cable and satellite companies have Network Operations Centers specifically to avoid this type of problem. As the program progressed, it was obvious it was going to run long. It never should have been scheduled by the Dish Network with a "hard off" as they say in the business. It was live sports.

Eventually, Dish Network allocated another channel and told viewers to turn to it for the rest of the event. There was only one problem. The event was over. Dish Network viewers missed "the Feature" and the Dish Network did not have the decency to store the program and then play back the part that everyone missed. Even if they had played back "the Feature," everyone who had set a DVR or VCR for one specific channel to tape this event would have come up empty. Simply put, this was an on-air operations foul-up compounded by continual bad decision-making and poor customer service.

Many Dish Network subscribers that emailed The Daly Planet said that they went black after the "B Main" and never came back again. They liked what they had seen, but they might have missed one of the best dirt-track races in years when they missed "the Feature."

On a night that made TV racing history, it is simply a shame that a logistical and technical error by one satellite company could cause so much pain for racing fans. Almost everyone who emailed stated very clearly that they loved the show, and look forward to next year's event. Everyone said it was the charity aspect that drew them in, and then it was the awesome racing that kept them glued to the screen.

The Daly Planet would respectfully suggest that one way Dish Network executives might put a positive spin on a very bad situation is by helping to support the very cause for which their subscribers paid their hard-earned money. Perhaps, a donation to the Victory Junction Gang Camp from the Dish Network would go a long way in healing the pain that this technical glitch inflicted on racing fans nationwide. Then, Dish Network could replay this event from start-to-finish for all their subscribers without any additional charge. At least let them see the whole program once.

If the folks at the Dish Network Operations Center took the time to watch the replay, they might even become race fans. That way, next year the Dish Network employees would be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.

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