Saturday, August 27, 2011

Live Blogging Sprint Cup Series From Bristol (ABC - 7PM ET)

It's a night to remember at Bristol, TN. ABC is the network for the Sprint Cup Series race, but there are some issues out there.

Some markets have local coverage of NFL preseason games on ABC tonight. In those markets, viewers who want NASCAR need to tune to ESPN2. That channel will be used for alternate distribution. In Houston, TX, viewers need to look for the ABC digital station that is carried by local cable systems.

The second story is Hurricane Irene. Should an ABC local station decide to continue with storm coverage, viewers will be told where to turn for NASCAR viewing. Our best guess is also ESPN, but some markets may distribute the signal locally on another channel. It's going to be interesting.

The race itself it all about Kyle Busch. He is the story and emerging as the driver to beat down the stretch. Defeated after an incident in the truck series race, he came back with a vengeance and won Friday night in the Nationwide Series.

Nicole Briscoe hosts the show from the Infield Pit Studio. She has Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty alongside. These three are located outside of the track due to limited space in the infield. Rusty and Brad are nothing if not enthusiastic.

Allen Bestwick will call the race. This is a big change for ESPN/ABC. Lackluster lead announcers have plagued this coverage since 2007. Bestwick should be right in his wheelhouse with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree alongside.

Pit road communication is impossible under green flag racing at Bristol. This race is the ultimate challenge for pit road reporters. Jamie Little, Dr. Jerry Punch, Vince Welch and Dave Burns are the Sprint Cup Series team in the pits.

Tim Brewer is in the Tech Garage. With green flag laps taking less than 15 seconds, it should be interesting to see how the producer works Brewer into the telecast. The producer faces the same challenge for dealing with TV commercial breaks under green.

Bristol features side-by-side racing with cars close all over the track. Focusing on just one small group of cars robs the viewer of the experience of this race. ESPN's choice is to work to relay the reality of the racing or just to "make TV" tonight.

This post will serve to host your TV-related comments about the telecast. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

A Fly In The Ointment Named Irene

The late Howard Cosell used a phrase when things started to get interesting on the football field. "We have a developing situation!" he would yell.

Well, that certainly is true for the planned ABC coverage of the Sprint Cup Series race from Bristol, TN this Saturday night. Hurricane Irene is chugging up the Eastern Seaboard.

If the race was scheduled for ESPN, there would not be an issue. Cable TV just keeps rolling right along when bad weather is striking an area of the country. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for both local TV stations and their network news big brothers.

Looking at The Weather Channel map pictured above, the timeline of the current storm puts it coming on shore in the outer banks of North Carolina late Saturday afternoon. As hurricane veterans know, that spins lots of "feeder bands" of thick rain and high winds out from the storm.

Those are the kind of regional weather issues that cause local stations to cut into or preempt programming for updates and radar views. Having a significant number of ABC stations in the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland breaking away at that time to track the storm throughout the evening could impact the race coverage.

The bigger story looming on the horizon is that if Irene continues on her current path we are going to see New Jersey, New York and most of New England impacted by a major hurricane. That story may take on new meaning Saturday evening.

Thursday afternoon a state of emergency had already been declared in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Evacuations of hospitals and nursing homes had begun in areas of New York City. There is little doubt Friday will bring an even more heightened state of urgency.

By the time Saturday evening, primetime for TV networks, comes around there is going to have to be a decision made to either show the race from Bristol or move to national network news coverage of the impending storm situation.

Remember, broadcast networks and TV stations operate to serve the public. These are government regulated over-the-air businesses that are under a lot of pressure to serve as the information conduit to the public in time of need.

Luckily, there is a very viable alternative available and it can all be traced to the NFL preseason. In several markets, the ABC stations on Saturday night are already contracted to show a preseason game. That meant that ESPN had to provide a way for those markets to see the race.

The solution was to use ESPN2 in those areas for NASCAR. The same kind of technology ESPN uses to handle blackouts for events like college basketball was brought into play to get the race into the homes affected by football.

Simply put, ESPN uses zip codes to switch groups of viewers from one signal to another. Thanks to the NFL, the live race will already be underway to selected viewers. This opens the door to lots of solutions.

If an ABC station decides to dedicate the evening to live storm programming, then perhaps ESPN will use some switching technology and make an effort to get the ESPN2 program authorized for viewers in that area. Of course, the priority is not NASCAR for some folks and that is absolutely understood.

Should ABC decide to dedicate primetime on Saturday to the hurricane, ESPN can simply use ESPN2 and show the race nationwide. Either way, it's an interesting comparison between the two very different systems in the country for distribution of TV content.

We will use this post for updates from ESPN about this situation as they happen. In the meantime, please feel free to leave us a comment by clicking on the comment button below. As someone who has been through three hurricanes here in Florida, I hope all our readers affected by this storm stay safe and sound. Remember, there is always another race.