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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