Monday, March 7, 2011

TV SmackDown: SBNation's Jeff Gluck

Here are some tweets from SBNation's NASCAR blogger Jeff Gluck, shown above on the left, after two press releases came out on Monday.

The first release said that FOX had extended Darrell Waltrip's TV contract until 2014. That is the final year of the current NASCAR TV agreement with FOX.

The second, without mentioning the programming issues of last season to put things in perspective, announced that the overnight ratings from the Sunday Sprint Cup Series race on FOX were up almost 30%.

This followed from Gluck:

DW joins Rusty as broadcasters signed to extensions despite fan gripes. Conclusion: Networks don't care what you think about their talent.

DW isn't going anywhere and he isn't going to change (a new deal only encourages his broadcasting style), so if it annoys you, tough luck.

While enough fan opinions/complaints may move #NASCAR to make decisions, TV networks are not interested in fan input on who's in the booth.

My point is if you're going to complain about something, you're wasting your breath on the TV announcers. Save it for something else.

The ratings are up this year so far...everyone is happy in TV land. My advice is to just enjoy and press mute if it bothers you

Well now, that certainly is interesting. There is only one little problem. Many of us remember the reaction when Gluck did not travel to the Chicagoland Sprint Cup Series race last year. He was forced to watch just one race on TV just like the rest of us.

Gluck was upset from the start. It was as if he had just come out of a protected cave and discovered the real world of NASCAR TV. Some suggested at the time that cave might be called the Infield Media Center. Then he wrote a column.

Click here to read the entire post. Here are some excerpts:

"It's not the quality of the racing that's making people tune out – it's the TV broadcasts themselves."

"I'm not sure the executives at NASCAR understand this. Like me, they're at the track nearly every week and don't rely on the TV broadcasts as their primary source of information. I didn't get it; they probably don't, either."

"Unless you're truly hardcore about NASCAR, you can't just sit there and watch the race from start to finish. Casual or even semi-interested fans would be turned off by the broadcasts."

"What's frustrating is all this time I've been thinking the declining ratings had much to do with the quality of the racing. It really doesn't. It's the quality of the broadcasts which are supposed to show the racing."

FOX, TNT and ESPN are returning their primary on-air staffs this season without change. The amount of commercial time is identical to last year. There is no side-by-side commercial option available and RaceBuddy will be provided for only the six TNT summer races.

In short, the very same product that Gluck could not believe was being presented to fans is being presented once again. In his column, Gluck called for change and innovative thinking from NASCAR, the TV networks and sponsors.

This is not a ratings issue. There is only one outlet for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series races. You want to see them, you must tune in to FOX, TNT or ESPN. Last year this past weekend had the gold medal game in Olympic hockey competing with NASCAR. You might remember who won.

Now in year five of talking about NASCAR TV and new media issues, we have seen tremendous shifts in the television and online video landscape. Solid news programs are now up and running on ESPN and SPEED. continues to expand online video offerings and is working hard on becoming more fan friendly.

NASCAR racing series, drivers and teams use Twitter to its full capability. They mix that with social media content from Facebook to offer an almost continuous stream of fresh racing content. It has been nothing short of amazing to watch.

Meanwhile, the Sprint Cup Series TV networks are effectively producing the same product with the same personalities and the same amount of commercials in the same way they have since 2007. This too, has been amazing to watch.

In closing, we leave you with the words of Gluck from his column after the Chicagoland viewing experience:

"For those decision-makers from NASCAR or the TV networks who read this, you may be tempted to dismiss this column as the typical gripes you hear every week."

"But I challenge you to do this: Sit down and watch a NASCAR TV broadcast from start to finish without fast-forwarding through the commercial breaks."

"You may discover the same thing I did: As it turns out, fans don't just complain for the sake of complaining after all."

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

TV Police: Sprint Cup Series From Las Vegas On FOX

What did you expect, it's Las Vegas! Lt. Dangle is on the case and investigating the NASCAR on FOX telecast just like another domestic in a Reno trailer park.

Once again, the pre-race show started from the new portable stage positioned on pit road. Unfortunately, that meant no one in the background except security guards and John Force signing autographs. The Neon Garage was packed with fans, but unused. The TV team transitioned to the Hollywood Hotel when Darrell Waltrip made his move to the broadcast booth.

Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond continued in the infield for the rest of the race. Several times, they came back on camera to offer recaps of the field and highlights of the race. FOX confirmed that the Ford cutaway car is back, showing it on-camera outside the HH.

Mike Joy called the action with Larry McReynolds and Waltrip. On pit road were Steve Byrnes, Krista Voda, Matt Yocum and Dick Berggren.

Tracks like Las Vegas bring a certain type of racing that requires the TV team to look for stories and continually update information for viewers. Passing is not the top priority as fuel, tires and strategy make this type of racing very different.

FOX has developed a style of presenting NASCAR that includes what we call "hyper-tight" camera framing. Instead of sweeping vistas, aerial shots and long views down the straights, FOX uses incredibly tight shots of cars mixed with in-car cameras. The bumper-cams are favored by the director.

Mixing that type of coverage with a track like Las Vegas has a predictable result. Most of the incidents and key moments of the race were presented to viewers via replay. Often, the entire incident would need to be replayed in order to show TV viewers what had happened.

Mike Joy was very forceful in the TV booth with his calling out of what corner an incident had occurred because that would alert the director to change cameras. Unfortunately, with so much effort put into the "hyper-tight" presentation even Joy's direct approach resulted in delays to see what was happening.

FOX continues to have the top pit reporters in the sport, but they are used much more for basic information and the description of pitstops than for updates and opinion. Integrating more of the pit reporters and less of the commentary from the TV booth has always been a topic of discussion.

Tires were an issue, with replays capturing the failures and subsequent eliminations from the race. Interviews were conducted with the drivers out of the race. No Goodyear interviews were done and it was never followed-up if the failures were debris, wear or tire trouble.

A diverse group of drivers appeared in the top ten throughout the day. The director was consistent in his selection of tight shots of single cars, so viewers had to refer to the scoring ticker at the top of the screen for updates. Distance between cars was not shown in terms of understanding the relative positions on the track.

FOX has every right to present these races in the style that the network chooses. The network owns the rights, sells the ads and has been actively involved in NASCAR for ten years. The results of this style of overall production should be apparent from the TV Police comments below.

We invite you to offer your race wrap-up comments on the FOX coverage of the Sprint Cup Series race from Las Vegas. To add your opinion, just click on the comments section below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

The TV Lightning Rod: Darrell Waltrip (Reposted)

Update: Darrell Waltrip just received a two year extension from FOX. That puts Waltrip as the Lead Analyst on the FOX package of Sprint Cup Series races until 2014, the final year of the current NASCAR TV contract. This is a repost of a column post-Daytona that discussed Waltrip and his on-air presence in the sport. The comments section is open.

There were plenty of reminders last weekend of the original race for Darrell Waltrip as the lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX . Highlights, review shows and news features recapped Waltrip's debut on a race that mixed triumph with tragedy.

During a week that featured younger brother Michael authoring a book about that day, older brother Darrell had to speak often about mixing family pride with the untimely passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr. at the very same moment.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since that day ten years ago. The NASCAR profile of FOX Sports is now a familiar one. The network builds the excitement for the Daytona 500 and then runs out the remaining string of races before shifting to baseball and NFL football.

Waltrip's transition into the TV booth came at a time when NASCAR was at the height of its popularity. Today, things are different. The sport is different. The faces are different. The cars are different. Younger fans know Waltrip only from TV. Younger drivers as well.

Waltrip is 64 years old. Other network TV analysts like Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and Kyle Petty are a decade or more younger. Marketing folks still marvel at Waltrip, who can walk the fine line between analyzing the sport on national TV and being simultaneously involved with specific brands and sponsors behind the scenes.

It's hard for some of us to forget the on-air hawking of Digger by Waltrip when the animated character was introduced by FOX. After replays, on restarts and seemingly after every commercial Waltrip reminded viewers that Digger merchandise was available at his own personal website.

Over time, Waltrip has become caught-up in the same issue that currently surrounds his boothmate, Larry McReynolds. Being on so many TV shows ultimately creates a problem. Sooner or later real NASCAR issues that are not particularly fun, not particularly nice and may be very politically incorrect need to be addressed. Neither man can do it anymore.

There was a time when Waltrip would stand his ground and defend his opinions if he thought anyone, including NASCAR itself, was wrong. That time has long since passed. Now, the message being delivered by Waltrip from the NASCAR on FOX TV booth is lacking in opinion and instead dripping in emotion.

We dealt with this topic one year ago when Waltrip openly and emotionally rooted for Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Here is an excerpt from a TDP column after the 2010 race:

When David Reutimann bumped Dale Earnhardt Jr. toward the front in the endless game of bumper cars that is plate racing at Daytona, the world changed for Waltrip. As Earnhardt was pushed between two cars, Waltrip lost it. At a time when Mike Joy should have been calling the race and indicating when Waltrip could step in, there was going to be no stopping the NASCAR on Fox analyst.

Luckily, Joy got just enough time to call out Jamie McMurray's name as he crossed the line. It was clear, however, that once again Waltrip had allowed an emotional outburst to get in the way of the telecast. Where Waltrip used to wait for his moment and make it count, he now simply cannot step back and let Joy have the spotlight.

This year, Waltrip made it a doubleheader. Rick Allen was the first victim as Waltrip screamed "Mikkkkkeeeeeey" over top of Allen's commentary as Michael Waltrip crossed the finish line to win the Camping World Truck Series race.

Allen has worked for years on this series and adding color and excitement to the final lap of truck races on SPEED has become his trademark. Without any hesitation, Waltrip robbed Allen of one thing every play-by-play announcer wants to achieve. That is the memorable call of the end of a race that will live on once the race is done.

Two days later, Waltrip's second victim was TV veteran Mike Joy on the biggest race of the year. At some point on the final lap, the role of the analyst ends. Memorable final lap calls from Bob Jenkins, Allen Bestwick, Eli Gold and others over the years are what creates the television history of the sport. Waltrip took that opportunity away from Joy.

In response to fans addressing this point on Twitter, Waltrip offered the following:

Waltrip: Come on man, the 3 of us got excited, watching history being made, can't sit on your hands at that point! In my world the last lap and coming to the line is a 911 not 411.

By the end of a Sprint Cup Series race the TV analysts in the booth, the reporters on pit road and the team in the infield studio have been on the air for hours. Pit stops have been called, incidents have been replayed and opinions have been shared.

On the final lap the spotlight should be on the one person in the TV booth who has worked hard to earn the right to call the winner crossing the line. Ultimately, it comes down to respect and the ability to let someone else take centerstage.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.