Friday, July 21, 2006

Viewers have every right to demand more, but only so much is going to happen

I found myself listening to the guys on XM Radio's NASCAR channel Thursday night when they were talking about the "side by side" deal ESPN and ABC use on their IndyCar Series telecasts.
Specifically, they were addressing a story in the Long Island (N.Y.) Press about whether the format, in which commercials share the screen with a video image of what's happening on the track, might ever be used in NASCAR telecasts when ABC/ESPN resumes broadcasting stock-car events next year.
The specific sticking point was a quote from NASCAR managing director of corporate communications Ramsey Poston.
"We've looked at a lot of options to enhance the fan/viewer experience but feel that a split-screen presentation of ads and racing serves neither the fan nor advertiser," Poston said.
This comment, of course, was drawing hoots from fans and the hosts of the show alike. Fans' interests would certainly served by splitting the screen, as they would if race telecasts had no commercials at all.
Normally, it wouldn't bother me a bit to let Poston twist in the wind a little on this one. It's not that I don't like him, but he and I sometimes find ourselves with competing interests as he and I both try to do our jobs.
But I can't do it in this case. Poston didn't choose his words well. When I talked to him on the phone on Friday he said he realized after reading his comments he came off sounding like he was trying to speak for the fans more than he'd intended to do.
In clarifying his position, Poston said that NASCAR has looked at what ABC/ESPN does with the split screen and doesn't think that it does justice either to the race coverage or to advertisers.
And he's right.
You're hearing the commercial sound, and the only thing that can be said for the small view of the race is that it's better than nothing. But only barely.
Advertisers, meanwhile, are paying far more for commercial time on NASCAR races than they are on IRL broadcasts. NASCAR has a big-time TV deal, while the IRL basically sells the Indianapolis 500 to ABC and throws the rest of its series in with the deal.
It also should be pointed out that "side-by-side" certainly hasn't been a television ratings bonanza for the IRL, either. If an advertiser buys a full-page ad in The Charlotte Observer, he gets a full page. If an advertiser pays the going rate for a spot on a NASCAR telecast, that company ought to get what it's paying for as well.
It might be a more popular view to say otherwise, but it'd be hypocritical. I don't blame NASCAR fans for wanting to see races without commercials. I don't blame fans for complaining when restarts are missed or commercials get backed up and the coverage of races gets choppy.
I frequently get e-mails from fans who've timed commercials or written down how many laps of racing they see in a certain period of a telecast. I tell them time and time again that the commercial load in a NASCAR telecast isn't significantly larger than what you see in a night of prime-time shows.
Those shows have natural breaks, but NASCAR races do not. Commercials just seem more intrusive in the race broadcasts.
I heard Ken Schanzer of NBC Sports say once that NASCAR is the "best covered" sport on television because of all the places the networks can take cameras. I think he's absolutely right.
If something happens on a commercial, it's quickly replayed from 12 different angles. Fans don't miss much, if anything.
Fans want more than they'll ever get because that's natural. They never want to miss a pass or a pit stop or a restart. They always want to see 15 or 20 drivers interviewed in the postrace, and sometimes time simply doesn't allow that.
A fan's favorite driver can never be shown enough and the driver he hates most is always going to be shown too much.
That's how fans are. There are some fans out there who would be willing to pay to watch races commercial free, but not enough of them to make that a viable commercial entity.
So as long as advertisers are paying the bills - and they're very, very big bills - commercials are going to be part of NASCAR telecasts.


Monkeesfan said...

Fan clamor for split-screen is the continuing triumph of false hope over rational thinking. Split-screen isn't as hot as they make it out to be, and the reality of rights fees always gets in the way - the networks simply can't afford to go the split-screen route with NASCAR because then they're just throwing their rights fee money away.

Fans have got to learn they can't have everything - they have to learn to accept what they have and just watch the racing. The problem on television isn't the quality of the broadcasts, it's the quality of the racing.

Anonymous said...

At least the commercials are overall fun and entertaining.

Paul Stagg said...

I think you missed some of the issue some folks have with NA$CAR's comments. The arrangement between ESPN/ABC and advertisers doesn't (shouldn't) involve NA$CAR. Who are they to interfere with what the advertisers and the network decide to do?

ESPN/ABC are paying for the rights to show the races, and the reason they do that is to sell advertising time on those telecasts. If they decide the best thing for their business is to split the screen (and make it more likely I'm not fast forwarding through the commercials or staying on the channel instead of surfing around), why would NA$CAR care? If an advertiser thinks it's a good idea, why would anyone want to stop that?

Anonymous said...

Paul -- Because it's not that simple. Suppose ABC/ESPN said it would offer side-by-side to any advertiser who wants to do it. Ok, so out of 10 advertisers, three say it's OK. The other seven say, no, we're paying for the whole screen. Fans go nuts. "We hate So-and-so because they won't let us keep watching the race. Boycott them!" Now, that company says, screw this, we don't need this hassle. So now, ABC/ESPN can only sell to companies willing to use the split screen, in reality. And they have to charge less for that. So they lose money on the deal, big time. Next time around, the rights fees are a third what they are now because the networks can't make back the money on ads. That's millions of dollars coming out of the sport. How is that in the best interest of NASCAR, the networks, the fans or anybody. Because if the next time around NASCAR gets peanuts for rights fees because the split screen ads ruin the economic picture, everybody's writing that NASCAR is in decline.

Anonymous said...

Split screen aside, the current race coverage is terrible. These guys talk over each other and just can't get their story or roles straight. The FOX guys are much better.

Anonymous said...

I think that NASCAR should offer a pay per-view telecast that has no commercial breaks. I think this would be very popular because the NBC/TNT broadcast is unwatchable. You get about 3-5 laps before a commercial break.

Anonymous said...

I for one know without a doubt that if they did go side by side, we wouldn't do so much channel surfing in our house while they are on commercial. When we watch an IRL race, we never channel surf during commercials because, even though we're hearing the commercial, we can still see what's going on at the race. And if the sponsors say no to it because they pay for a whole screen, well they would be crazy, I think. It's not 1/2 and 1/2, it's about 1/3 of screen for racing and 2/3 screen for commerical. I would think that the sponsors would want you to stay on their commercial instead of going somewhere else. In our house, the commentators say let's take a short break or something like that, we don't even wait to see what the commercial is about, click goes the remote. I say Nascar, do your fans and sponsors a favor and let the split screen happen.

Anonymous said...

Nascar Does offer Pay per view races, with NO Commentators, if you have digital cable and pay about 75 bucks a year, its called Nascar In Car, and you get six or seven different drivers. I have had it for the last two years, and have to admit, I haven't seen many commercials once the start your engine command is given!

Anonymous said...

Look, I understand the quandary NASCAR is in. The big fat TV contract needs to be paid for. I also know that the millions of fans that feed the machine are sick and tired of getting a lap or two, then minutes and minutes of commercials. There has to be a better balance. How about cutting out the INSANE pre-race shows? Put some more commercials in there, take them out of race time? While the ratio of commercials may be approximately the same as a prime time show, the balance SUCKS.

I too have InCar. The few times a race I do check in anymore, ALWAYS at commercial. I try to sit through them to see if the race will ever come back on, I give it 2-3 minutes (timed) and give up. While I miss seeing the whole track action, until ESPN/ABC proves their anchors to be less idiotic (WEBER!!) and their commercials to be better balanced, InCar will continue to be my primary choice.

Anonymous said...

David I will tell you what I will settle for.

And no I do not want to see the split screen either.

1) I do not want to miss a restart

2) I would appreciate the last 30 minutes or so done commercial free, which was something NBC did up until 2005 and now.

3) No Bill Weber for the love of god the man is just terrible. Maybe you can shed some insider light into this, but why the hell was Bestwick replaced? Hes a natural talker and very knowledgable, he must have pissed somebody off?

4) I would just love to see what goes on more than in the top 10. The racing nowadays is fairly boring, the top 10 get spread out pretty good. In a 5 hour broadcast how come they cant cover the guys running 11th to 30th more? ESPN USED to do it, in fact Neil Goldberg was very very good at covering any kind of good action. I remember in 2000 Mighigan that Rusty Wallace won, Rusty was winning going away, they went from Rusty crossing the s/f line and instantly back to the fight for 8th which had 10 cars going 3 wide out of 4. Action, theres plenty of it iun the back of the it.

5) Dont make the telecast about the announcers. FOX does this perfectly and it sucks. DW had his moment years ago, Hammond, Macrenolyds and Meyers shouldnt be the stars, it should be the drivers and the crews.

That should be all for now.

Anonymous said...

They rarely miss anything with all those cameras? I beg do differe I have seen so many aftermaths of wrecks and not waht happened over and over again. If I didn't have TRACKPASS I would never know where my driver was. Meaing gaining or losing. The reason the race fan doesn't get what they want is like all other big medie they think they are smarter than us and they aren't ratings are proving we aren't getting what we want..