Saturday, March 29, 2008

IRL "Side-By-Side" Commercials Leave NASCAR Fans Screaming

The email began to arrive once the IRL action got underway from the Homestead, FL track. It was not about the good pictures from ESPN or the good action from a series trying to survive.

What NASCAR fans had seen, apparently many for the first time, was the TV commercial breaks in the live IRL coverage. They had experienced the "missing link" in the TV coverage of NASCAR. They had seen ESPN's "side-by-side" commercial breaks.

The network runs the commercials in a big box on the right side of the screen. At the same time, they keep the live coverage of the race in another smaller video box on the left side. They also include a top three scoring graphic that immediately changes if there is a pass on the track. Simply put, it is fantastic.

The question of why NASCAR cannot do this has been addressed by everyone from NASCAR to the TV networks. From what I understand, it all hinges on the coverage of the Sprint Cup Series.

Unlike the IRL, NASCAR's top series is split between three TV networks during the season. Fox, TNT and the ESPN/ABC combined media company comprise the coverage of the February through November season.

As you might expect, these three networks are not friends in the corporate sense of the word. Though they must combine at the tracks in terms of facilities and manpower, their sales and programming departments operate to serve only their own companies.

To arrange for side-by-side coverage, three networks would have to meet and work through a wide variety of issues. Each of these companies has paid NASCAR a lot of money for the rights to the races they televise. The single driving reason for full-screen national ads is to get as much revenue from each commercial as possible.

Writers from Marty Smith to yours truly have addressed this issue. We believed that with the new TV contract, ESPN would lead the way in advocating this change. While network executives expressed an interest, they simply could not convince the many NASCAR advertisers to participate. So, here we are.

This NASCAR reality hit home for many people who ran across the primetime showing of the Homestead IRL race. At the height of the excitement, in front of what appeared to be a full house, ESPN announcer Marty Reid made the point over-and-over again to assure TV viewers that they would not miss anything as the network went to commercial.

This technology seems simple and with ESPN already doing it for the IRL, is should be easy to do for NASCAR. This theory and the cold, hard reality of national advertising dollars have so far been unable to meet. The IRL stresses that it worked hard as a sanctioning body to help facilitate this issue.

NASCAR spokesman have repeatedly stated that NASCAR sells the rights to TV networks and conducts the races. Once again, the struggles of NASCAR where media issues come into play are brought to the forefront with the success of the IRL and the side-by-side commercial format.

So, I certainly appreciate the NASCAR fans once again asking about the side-by-side coverage, but can only offer what everyone else seems to be saying. It is a great idea that is lacking the leadership to accomplish it across the board in the sport. Whether that comes from NASCAR or from a committee of the NASCAR TV partners is yet to be seen.

What is certainly being seen is every single national TV commercial full-screen while green flag racing goes on only in front of the people in the stands. As we all look around at our laptops, HDTV's, DirecTV satellite dishes and Blackberrys, it seems strange that three TV networks cannot use a technology that has been around for many years to accomplish this single goal for the good of the sport.

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bevo said...

Yep, ad revenue for NASCAR is way higher than the IRL. Those people are still under the assumption that having the whole screen for a commercial is the best way to reach us. Never mind that everyone gets up to hit the kitchen or go to the restroom during the commercial. And that doesn't take into account the folks who just pause the Tivo to skip over them.

Times are changing.

Kenn Fong said...


Is this an all-or-nothing proposition for a network? If one sponsor decided to try side-side-by-side would the network balk for fear of offending other advertisers?

Do you think any of the networks will run a crawl during commercials? Or, again, if one sponsor asked to try it, would the network agree?

I can't believe advertisers are so short-sighted.

Alameda, California

Daly Planet Editor said...


It would have to be across the board for the season. Otherwise, it would not fly.

This means three different companies and three different sales staffs would have to cooperate to make it happen.

Therein lies the rub.


Sophia said...


Remember TNT and the coverage for the Pepsi 400 last year? MANY of us loved THAT as the commercials were a picture in a picture except for about 4 minutes an hour. This house LOVED it as did some others.

Other people could not let go of their HATRED for TNT long enough to ENJOY the almost commercial free race. Granted, it was for only one race but it would BEHOOVE other networks to try this for races throughout the year...Talladega, Brickyard, Daytona, etc.

The overkill of the split screen at the start of the IRL had us YELLING "ENOUGH" with the CONSTANT DRIVER CAM of Dan W and then the triple split screen....two wide shots on top, and one wide screen view at the bottom. We had NO clue what was going on as we don't have tv's the size of a Bus!!!

The directors or SOMEBODY finally calmed down and gave us better work..though ESPN suffers the same "VIRUS" NASCAR partners ALL share..."wife/crew shot" cam for too long of periods...but...bummer about IRL, no radio for it.

But it was good to see so many cars at least begin the race in Homestead tonight.

And once Marty Reid got over the forced perkieness from the beginning of the race, it was a little better. Still IRL announcers have never been outstanding.

Sophia said...


the IRL race had very loud ambient noise which was irritating all was most difficult to hear the studio announcers plus all the others.

Is this a new way for ESPN?

We have basic old fashioned tv and the stereo was turned OFF. But it was a constant problem...we kept the sound down low and muted every commercial just for some 'silence' as the high drone was irritating.

Just wondered if you might here if ESPN plans to improve that for IRL coverage.

I know NNow has this problem every time they are on a remote with cars in the background. But in 2008 you think most folks like ESPN could figure this out?

On ESPN you can NOT use the CC as it's across the top of the screen and blocks viewing action due to the lower ticker..which is another drag but I digress.


Anonymous said...

JD- On a NASCAR broadcast could a single advertiser sponsor a race progress crawl on its own ads - such as Bud?

Kenn Fong said...


You’re a Renaissance man! Where else could I go to discuss NASCAR TV coverage and get a little Shakespeare thrown in for free!

Alameda, California

WickedJ said...

ok so JD, let me ask this..why cant ESPN do this with the Nationwide series? theyre the only ones who broadcast it and i presume the ad revenue is got to be pretty close to that of IRL

RPM said...

opdipciwSophiaz has a good point. TNT (and I'm pretty sure a race on NBC) had the PIP during a race previously. Now we all know TNT and NBC are one in the same, but it shows it can be done.

I'm sure the problem lies with the sponsors, not the network. Sponsors want 100% focus on their commercials for the money they put out, and to be honest, who can blame them.

As a fan I want to see the race start to finish. As a sponsor I want to see a non-stop deluge of my brand. NASCAR is well known for the sponsor overplug from car to uniform to driver interview. But, you have to draw the line somewhere or else you will be left with a screen overlaid with a dozen different commercials, logos and crawls and a view between the cracks of the race.

You want nonstop coverage then subscribe to a premium service like DirecTv's incar channels, even those (at least they did last year, I did not sign up for this year) break for network commercials.

We all know sponsor dollars are getting harder to come by for the teams. Finding the sweet spot between network, sponsor and fan may be harder than finding the setup to make the race for a go or go homer.

Ken said...

JD, I watched the Indy car race last night, and was surpised that even TSN here in Canada had the side-by-side commercials. I was impressed! And as far as the overall race broadcast was concerned, If this was a sign of what this new unified Indy Series has to offer, NASCAR will be finding themselves back to the way they were in the old USAC/CART days when France's show was second banana to the open wheel world. Unlike Fox (So far this year), the broadcast was very balanced, and once the green flag dropped, there wasn't the "Danica Mania" like Fox's Junior love-fest we seem to be infested with. And all drivers got coverage, no matter where they were in the standings, not just the chosen few. ESPN at least made an effort to interview any driver who dropped out of the race. How often have you heard, "What happened to so-and-so?" during a NASCAR broadcast? OK, so it was a small (25 cars) field, but once the series gets going, that will surely change. As far as this long time (since about 1961) NASCAR fan is concerned, if this new unified open wheel series can get their act together, like within the next year or two, Brian France's show will be in very serious trouble.

Daly Planet Editor said...


Did you ever hear the one about stuff rolling downhill?

The Cup Series is key to unlocking this not only for the other two national touring series, but for qualifying and practice.

Imagine never missing a Go or Go Homer's qualifying run or even missing a surprise pole run because the network was in break as it happened live.

Senior management at NASCAR could take this bull by the horns, tackle the issue head-on, and change the "TV face" of the sport forever.

In my opinion, it would end the practice that many of us have of using the DVR or the TiVo to record the race and then reviewing it and fast forwarding through the commercials. That is the biggest reason this should change, it would bring back the fans to the live event.


Anonymous said...

I subscribe to NASCAR's raceview/pitpass/mrn radio package and I love it. I have the TV on, but keep it muted for the most part. Having the same commercials shoved down my throat over and over really ticks me off. At least with my laptop I can watch what I want and ignore the commercials. I enjoyed the TNT producation last year with the screen in screen. Too bad the sponsors can't see the forest for the trees.

Anonymous said...

I think bevo makes an excellent point regarding tivo. In an effort to avoid commercials and caution flad delays, I frequently let my DVR record about half of the race before I start watching it. That way I can skip the commercials and skip through the "competition"-I mean debris cautions and see the end of the race live. If the race was shown during cautions, I would not skip the commercials because I could still keep up with the race. With more and more people using DVRs, I think the commercials will have more viewers with the race on the screen with the commercials. Rather than waiting on a commercial to go to the refrigerator, we would simply pause the race and not miss anything.

Anonymous said...

JD - This is a VERY simple one. First..The NASCAR contract with ESPN/ABC does NOT allow side by side...Period! No debate - no controversy - no requirment that all netws would have to do it.
That is a NASCAR decision not the broadcasters. 2nd the economics of the IRL business broadcasting model and NASCAR are completely different. Again NASCAR does not allow this and any fan concerns should be addressed to NASCAR not the broadcasters.

stricklinfan82 said...

I wish advertisers would understand that more people would watch their commercials if they did the picture-in-picture with live racing action.

When I'm watching a race live I change the channel and watch something other than the commercials, so I don't see one second of advertisements. And if I get home late and watch the race on the DVR or VCR, I fast-forward through the commercials and don't see one second of advertisements.

If they did the picture-in-picture I would see every commercial and be exposed to every second of advertising (like the Pepsi 400 broadcast last year). I'm not going to change the channel during commercial breaks if the live race is still on the screen, and I'm not going to fast-forward through the commercial breaks if the live race is still on the screen.

I'm sure I'm not the only NASCAR fan that does the exact same thing as it relates to commercials. These advertisers need to understand it's not as simple as "a full screen advertisement is better than a split-screen advertisement". They need to understand that more people will watch the split-screen advertisement because there are still race cars racing on the another portion of the TV screen. Full-screen ads with no race cars anywhere on my TV screen = my eyes moving to another channel.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 11:16AM,

You are going to have to back that one up. Marty Smith and I talked to ESPN and NASCAR and they both were open-minded to the issue.

What leads you to say that this is a NASCAR TV contract issue when NASCAR spokesman say it is not?

If you could help me to get pointed to the location where that information exists, it would be great. I am working on a column for Monday about this issue.



Steve L. said...

I watched the IRL race last night but stayed far enough behind with my DVR to fast forward thru the commercials even with the split screen.

Split screen or not, I don't watch commercials. If something happens on track I'll stop long enough to see what's happened, but my attention is on the track, not the commercial.

Anonymous said...

There were several articles about this in late 2006 when ESPN got part of the new contract, including one by Marty Smith on

From Marty's article: 9-21-2006

ABC/ESPN spokesman George McNeilly said Wednesday that the network would enjoy the opportunity to bring side-by-side coverage to NASCAR fans, but obstacles abound. Intricate dynamics are involved.

It's not as easy as simply doing it.

"ESPN is on the cutting edge of technology and would like the opportunity to pursue side-by-side with NASCAR, but we are contractually prohibited at this time from doing so.

"We see side-by-side as an opportunity to serve sports fans so they don't miss the action, and still provide great value to advertisers on the telecast. We'd like the opportunity."

Contacted Wednesday, NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said NASCAR is still searching for the proper solution.

"We are always interested in finding the best way to showcase our racing in a manner that serves fans, sponsors and the networks," Poston said. "Up to this point we have not seen a split screen solution that accomplishes that."

In other words, NASCAR is open to a picture-in-picture concept, just not in the same fashion the IRL uses.

Truth be told, side-by-side coverage has produced no noticeable increase in IRL viewership ratings for ESPN/ABC. Nation said it was "arguable."

(Fred Nation referred to in the article is the IRL communications spokesman.)

Daly Planet Editor said...

Thanks for posting that info, but it was my understanding that contractually obligated meant to the sponsor, not NASCAR.

In other words, the sponsors demanded full screen ads and would not participate in anything less.

NASCAR sells the rights to the races, but what influence could they possibly have or why would they care if the ads were in the side-by-side format?

See where I am coming from?


Anonymous said...

I definitely do see where you are coming from. But NASCAR, according to Poston, does care and does influence the decision, whether it's warranted or not. Since he says they haven't seen a split screen that they like, I don't see how the networks or sponsors are going to proceed with the concept without NASCAR saying it's OK.

That's why NASCAR is a monopoly -they want to control everything because they always have. If NASCAR doesn't say it's OK, ESPN isn't going to go around them and work with sponsors directly.

NASCAR is going to have to make the call on this, warranted or not.

Anonymous said...

If I might toss out this idea. NASCAR doesn't want side-by-side because they want the rabid fans to have to buy Trackpass and such in order to get the entire race.

Great blog, by the way.

Anonymous said...

I have DirecTV Hotpass and when the network goes to comercial the Hotpass announcers go silent and the network commercial audio takes over. Of course you can select the team audio and that's exactly what I do! I have no desire to listen or watch any commercials. Course I have to pay plenty for this priveledge, but it's worth it to me. While watching IRL, I do basically the same thing except when they go to commercial I hit the mute button. Advertisers know people like me are out there along with the channel changers and refrigerator runners. I'd guess they figure this is the only way to ensure somebody gets their message and are unwilling to do otherwise at the price the network is asking for ad time.

Anonymous said...


Show some charity to the fans.