The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Commercials Hurt TNT Debut, Technical Trouble For SPEED by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday June 14, 2011

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, your one-stop shop for TV telecast breakdowns. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series was at Pocono Raceway for the 5-Hour Energy 500. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series raced Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway as support to the Izod IndyCar Series.

Firestone Twin 275’s

Saturday was a night of quirkiness for the Izod IndyCar Series. It marked the first split-race since 1981 at Atlanta. Because it had been 30 years since CART last ran one, a fair amount of time was spent explaining the format, and the special points rules in effect for the night (half points for each race, no qualifying points in Race 2).


IndyCar ran its first split-race in 30 years at Texas on Saturday.

The coverage on Versus was scheduled to start at 7:30pm, but did not start until 7:45. At first, I thought that Versus’ post-race coverage from the Belmont Stakes running long was the culprit, but it appeared to be scheduled at the last minute. As a result, it didn’t show up in my on-screen guide.

Once the show got underway, Kevin Lee and Dan Wheldon hosted from their IndyCar Central platform. They mainly discussed the upcoming first race of the night from there.

There were a number of pre-race interviews, both by Lee and Wheldon up on the stage, and by the other pit reporters on pit road. Most notably, Rick Mears sat in on the platform to talk about the twin race format. Mears only talks every so often, but it was interesting to be able to get an idea of the format from someone who actually raced in them (Mears swept the last one at Atlanta).

Since Wally Dallenbach was at Pocono for the Sprint Cup race, Versus welcomed Dan Wheldon into the broadcast booth. If you remember, he did the Freedom 100 in the booth as practice. Wheldon obviously would have preferred to have been in a car for the race, but he brought a lot of first-hand knowledge to the booth. He actually did make the broadcast better. It was a little like when Darrell Waltrip would sit in on TNN races in 1994 back when they had no real clue who was going to replace Neil Bonnett.

The broadcast that Versus gave viewers was a decent setup. There was plenty of racing for position and they did a good job in giving us those battles. There was a grand total of one caution between the two 275 kilometer races, so there wasn’t debris to show or anything like that.

The fields spread out substantially in both races unlike anything I’d seen at Texas in years. When that happens, Versus basically does a Through the Field much like TNT does. Helps to get some more information about the cars out there.

The side-by-side commercials were nice, but there seemed to be so many of them that combined, they were used almost as often as full-screen racing. Not too good.

After the first race, Versus provided viewers with six post-race interviews before transitioning into what Bob Jenkins described as “the Halftime Show.” However, the interviews themselves were not what I noticed. What I did notice were some technical issues. My feed on Versus kept cutting in and out. I have no clue why this was so. I have cable and we were not experiencing a thunderstorm during the race. Luckily, that didn’t last very long.

Then came the random draw for Race 2 starting spots. The basic setup was that there were 30 cutouts of tires on stage. The drivers would be called up on stage by Jenkins in reverse order of their finish in Race 1. Jenkins or Robbie Floyd (subbing for Marty Snider) would ask questions to each of the 30 drivers, then they would make their selections. I found it interesting because viewers got to hear from drivers that we’re not accustomed to hearing from. For example, I cannot remember seeing an interview with Ana Beatriz prior to Saturday night.

Some people didn’t like the setup and thought it was hokey. Brad Keselowski (via Twitter) thought it was more painful to watch than the Budweiser Shootout draw for starting positions. Eventually, he turned it off claiming that it was just too ridiculous to bear. Oh well, the series needs to do something to hype their drivers more. Maybe this wasn’t the way to go, but at least they’re trying to be more than just Danica Patrick, 27 other dudes and two women.

Post-race coverage was pretty good. Versus provided viewers with six more post-race interviews, as well as checks of the unofficial results (for Race 2) and the point standings. There was also some wrap-up commentary from the booth.

Versus’ coverage was pretty good. The Halftime Show could have used some work. The random draw idea might have been ok, but the execution wasn’t the greatest. When people are thinking that the ridiculous planking would have been better to watch, that’s a problem. I don’t think we’ll see the series adopt any more Twin race formats, but this setup was pretty good. Can’t do much about the fact that both races were nearly completely anti-climatic.

Wheldon could be a potential broadcast analyst after his career ends. However, I’m sure that he doesn’t want it to end now.

WinStar World Casino 400k

On Friday night, SPEED returned with coverage of the Camping World Truck Series at Texas Motor Speedway. Due to Adam Alexander’s role as the Play-by-Play man for TNT’s Sprint Cup coverage, there were some changes. Krista Voda was back in Charlotte hosting SPEED Center in Alexander’s place. As a result, Rick Allen hosted the Setup from the Spotter’s stand.

Also, Michael Waltrip was not in Texas because he was in Le Mans, France, preparing to make his debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Waltrip did ok in his debut (although he didn’t finish). Waltrip was not replaced in the booth for the race. As a result, the booth had more of an ARCA feel as opposed to the Camping World Truck Series.

The Setup started out with a rehash of the whole Kyle Busch-Richard Childress shenanigans. By this point, I really could care less, but since the fracas occurred after SPEED left the air in Kansas, the on-air crew really couldn’t cover it much back then. Hermie Sadler and Ray Dunlap covered the two teams involved and gave viewers a look at some new information that hadn’t previously been disseminated on-air. Good show.

There was a feature where Todd Bodine and Brendan Gaughan (who have ten Texas victories between them) discussed what it takes to win at Texas Motor Speedway. This was interesting because it was simply the drivers talking amongst themselves. Yes, there was some posturing and showboating, but once that ended, the two drivers gave honest assessments of what is required to get to Victory Lane and discharge some ammunition at the end of the night.

Another feature saw three of Germain Racing’s drivers (the aforementioned Bodine and Gaughan, along with Justin Lofton) go to Fort Reilly to visit with troops and go through some combat training. The piece basically featured the drivers thanking the troops for what they do, and not doing all that well on simulators, but still having fun.

With all the features, there really wasn’t all that much time to preview the race itself. There were only four pre-race interviews, which is below normal for SPEED.

I guess the Mustang in the drifting exhibition bursting into flames right before the race was a decent indication of what was coming once the green came out. There were wrecks galore. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the most notable thing that happened on the broadcast.

There was a 15 lap stretch of the broadcast spanning through a commercial break in which viewers watching on SPEED could only see Camera No. 1, which is always zeroed in on the leader (in this case, Austin Dillon). Allen and Parsons continued on with their commentary like nothing happened. They did this because literally no one knew what happened. The coverage’s Twitter feed acknowledged that they didn’t realize something was up until angry viewers started tweeting to the official Twitter of SPEED’s Camping World Truck Series coverage that something screwy was going on. Seriously. The official statement was “Sorry for the technical difficulties guys. We didn’t know about it until text and twitter messages! Thanks for sticking with us.” That was posted after the race ended.

While it’s nice that SPEED references (and thanks) its viewers for notifying them of issues, I just don’t think such a setup is really acceptable unless you have some kind of failure at the track itself. The last time that I can think of that something like this happened during a race was in 1998 during the final Busch race at Hickory. A power outage left TNN with only one working camera and TNN commentators Eli Gold and Buddy Baker were forced to call part of the race from a satellite truck. Of course, viewers missed a few things that day, like when Kevin Grubb slid into a pit cart after wrecking. Gold constantly reminded viewers of why they were forced to cover the race in such a fashion. It should be noted that TNN’s issues lasted much longer than SPEED’s did on Friday night, but that is no reason why the fans shouldn’t have been notified and/or apologized to on-air.

The unfortunate side effect of the major technical issue is that during that time, Todd Bodine and Brian Ickler spun out to bring out the third yellow of the race (it happened during the commercial). SPEED was still having their issues when they showed the replay. Viewers had full audio from both Bodine’s truck and the booth, but no pictures. Just a terrible instance that the booth had no control over.

Other than the technical issue that plagued the aforementioned 15 lap stretch, the telecast was pretty decent to watch. SPEED provided viewers with a great amount of battling for position on-track. There was prodigious use of split-screens in order to display multiple races on-track for position. That was great to see.

Post-race coverage was somewhat limited because the race was already beyond its timeslot when the checkers fell. As a result, there were only five post-race interviews (the top-4 finishers, plus Johnny Sauter) and a check of the point standings before SPEED left the air. Also, there were replays of the wreck involving Travis Kvapil and Johanna Long at the finish.

Not having Michael Waltrip in the booth meant that Parsons had to pick up the slack in his analysis, something that I don’t necessarily believe that Parsons has any issue doing. It’s just that Waltrip, if allowed to, can talk enough for two analysts. As a result, Parsons is often on cruise control during Truck telecasts. On Friday, he did just fine alone with Allen.

The telecast was pretty good to watch, but SPEED needs to get their act together behind the scenes. Make sure that everything actually works for the whole race, and if it doesn’t, have someone on-air tell the viewing audience what the deuce is going on with the telecast. We can’t have another repeat of what happened on Lap 41. Simple as that.

5-Hour Energy 500

Sunday afternoon brought the Sprint Cup Series back to the triangle known as Pocono Raceway for the 5-Hour Energy 500. Leading up to the race, reporters on Twitter talked about how apt the new name for the race really was. Hmmm….not so much this year. Sunday’s race only lasted three hours and 26 minutes.


Sunday’s 5-Hour Energy 500 heralded the return of TNT and Racebuddy.

Sunday was also the first race of TNT’s Summer Series, where NASCAR can have the most influence on the telecasts since Turner Sports also owns nascar.com. The pre-race presentation was almost no different as compared to 2010. The only difference was the replacing of Parsons with Chris Neville, a move that was generally seen as a plus.

Countdown to Green has a new sponsor this year in Pizza Hut, and like during the FOX portion of the season, they’re sponsoring a pick competition and a “Fan Favorite of the Race” (Jimmie Johnson on Sunday). Dallenbach is leading since he “picked” the winner of the race (Jeff Gordon). It was laughably obvious that someone very close to Dallenbach (probably Alexander) was giving him his points to say on-air.

Much of Countdown to Green was spent on TNT’s stage with Lindsay Czarniak, Larry McReynolds and Kyle Petty. Petty is to TNT like Darrell Waltrip is to FOX, but I think Petty is more self-aware and less self-promotional.

The main feature of pre-race was the Pride of NASCAR Series, which covers a historical figure from the sport. This week, the series covered the late Harry Hyde, a well-known crew chief in the Cup Series in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The feature included interviews with a couple of his former drivers (Buddy Baker and Ken Schrader), along with some other contemporaries (Buddy Parrott). The piece first focused on his time with Nord Krauskopf’s No. 71 Dodge team, including the land speed records set at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The rest of the feature was spent talking about his time with Hendrick Motorsports, and some quirks of his (he would write down all his notes on small index cards). A notable aspect missing from the feature was the influence Hyde had on the Harry Hodge character (played by Robert Duvall) in the film Days of Thunder. It was an interesting look at an interesting personality. Eventually, TNT could probably work their Pride of NASCAR series into a bunch of half-hour specials. The Hyde feature left me wanting more.

If there was one thing that I could take from Sunday’s telecast on TNT, it is the fact that there were a butt-load of commercials. I’ve mentioned here in the past that I time the commercial breaks during the race, but only under green-flag conditions. On Sunday, I timed roughly 50 minutes of commercials under green. A lot of that was because of the long green-flag runs, but that just seems excessive. I know that Turner Sports has to find some way to pay for their broadcasts, and RaceBuddy, as cool as it is, probably caused TNT to lower the rate for commercials in order to get sponsors. But, this was ridiculous. You could barely get six or seven laps under green before TNT would go back to a commercial break. It’s frustrating as heck.

Speaking of RaceBuddy, nascar.com debuted the new and improved RaceBuddy with four in-car cameras, two battle cams and so on and so forth that I talked about last week. What wasn’t mentioned is that when you switch feeds, say from a battle cam to an in-cam camera, there is now a 30 second side-by-side ad instead of a full screen ad. The in-car audio is muted for that 30 seconds, but you can still see it. Pretty good setup.

The crew cam that was mentioned in the press release was mounted on the Tommy Baldwin Racing (No. 36, Dave Blaney) pit box. The camera was a 360 degree setup that viewers could move themselves. Very cool, although I did not get a chance to use it during an actual pit stop.

Even with all that good, I still have three gripes about RaceBuddy, two minor and one major. We’ll start with the major one. During the race on Sunday, I had crashing issues with RaceBuddy. The service crashed no less than six times during the broadcast. Granted, all I had to do was refresh to get it back, but that’s ridiculous. For reference purposes, I was viewing RaceBuddy in Mozilla Firefox 4. I’d like to hear if any of you had similar issues.

Secondly, the pre-race coverage was very barren. This was mainly because Noble is not with Turner Sports this season. If you remember, he was the exclusive RaceBuddy reporter last year, and he also was responsible (along with one assistant) for the PitBuddy service that was included with RaceBuddy. PitBuddy is sorely missed, but the pre-race action is all but non-existent.

During pre-race last year, Noble would do his own interviews that were exclusive to RaceBuddy. Often times, he would get to more drivers by himself than TNT would get to with all four of their pit reporters. I guess it’s a nice way for viewers to see driver introductions now, but that’s about it.

Thirdly, nascar.com needs to fix their leaderboard so that it updates more often. At times during the race, it was as much as four laps behind. That simply will not work.

When TNT wasn’t in commercial, they brought as much of the on-track action as they could to viewers. It is a bit of a change from the typical FOX treatment that we’ve had for the last three months and change. The booth really doesn’t attempt to manufacture drama either, which is definitely good.

Carl Edwards joined in with Czarniak and McReynolds and added his own commentary late in the race before getting back in the car for the final few laps. It was interesting that he brought along the part that failed in his engine. Very helpful for viewers. However, I think that TNT should have broken out of commercial when he came in with his issues. I don’t think it was a local break, so they could have.

Post-race coverage was actually quite brief, despite the fact that the race ended with over a half-hour left in the timeslot. TNT provided four post-race interviews and checks of the unofficial results and point standings. In addition, there was some post-race discussion in the broadcast booth before TNT left approximately 20 minutes early.

They likely left the air early so that there would still be some content left over for the RaceBuddy-exclusive post-post-race show. That show had some post-race discussion with McReynolds and Czarniak, along with five more interviews. In a situation like Sunday, TNT likely should have just scrapped the RaceBuddy-exclusive show and combine it with the regular TNT post-race since the race ended so early. I’m reminded of what FOX tried to do last season. They tried to expand their post-race offerings in response to fan complaints, first with an ill-conceived internet-only show called the Overdrive that never actually aired online before Turner Sports put the kibosh on it? After that travesty, FOX decided on a different formula. If the race ended on time, or went late, they would air a typical amount of post-race programming on FOX, then move over to SPEED for Overdrive coverage. FOX did something similar just on Sunday afternoon when their telecast of the Grand Prix of Canada ran over two hours long due to rain. If it ended early, FOX would run the regular post-race coverage and the Overdrive. There would be no transition to SPEED. TNT should look into adopting that strategy if Sunday’s situation repeats itself in the future.

TNT’s broadcast shows that they have a decent product right now. However, it needs a little work. Maybe Pocono is just not the best place to start off your schedule (i’ts undoubtedly why a switch was instituted in the schedule for 2007 so that Indianapolis would start off the ESPN/ABC portion of the schedule instead of Pocono). Michigan should be a little more normal. Alexander still appears to be a work in progress in the broadcast booth. He’s not horrible, but I think he’s still trying to find his legs. His stint hosting SPEED Center definitely has not helped, though.

That’s all for this week. In random news, I apparently got name dropped during Press Pass on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Saturday. I don’t subscribe to SiriusXM, so I only heard about it via Twitter after the fact. Doesn’t hurt that one of the co-hosts was our Fearless Leader (the other was Jim Noble). A couple of the regulars in the Media Center opted out of the trip to Pocono this past weekend and were opting to watch at home, like the rest of us.

Next week, the Sprint Cup Series returns to action at Michigan International Speedway for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400. In a change from the past, the Nationwide Series will now partner up with the Cup Series.

Tuesday, June 14

Time Telecast Network
3:00-4:00pm 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame Announcement Preview SPEED
4:00-5:00pm Announcement of the 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductees SPEED
8:00-9:00pm Seat Swap: Hamilton vs. Stewart SPEED*

Friday, June 17

Time Telecast Network
11:30am-12:30pm Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
12:30-2:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:00-3:30pm Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:30-5:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
5:00-7:00pm ARCA Racing Series Raineater Wiper Blades 200 SPEED
8:00-8:30pm SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, June 18

Time Telecast Network
11:00am-12:30pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
1:00-3:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
3:00-3:30pm NASCAR Countdown ABC
3:30-6:00pm Nationwide Series Alliance Truck Parts 250 ABC
7:00-7:30pm SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, June 19

Time Telecast Network
9:00am-10:00am NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 1
9:30-10:00am SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:00am-12:00pm NASCAR RaceDay presented by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00-1:00pm Countdown to Green Delivered by Pizza Hut TNT
1:00-4:15pm Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 TNT
3:30-6:00pm Izod IndyCar Series The Milwaukee 225 ABC
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00-9:00pm NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
9:00-10:00pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape-Delayed

Note: Those of you in Canada will not see the beginning of the Izod IndyCar Series race from The Milwaukee Mile. The same channel (TSN2) is showing both the Sprint Cup and Izod IndyCar Series races, so the Milwaukee race will be joined in progress. I know, it bites.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Izod IndyCar Series races next week. In addition, the ARCA race on Friday will be covered in the Critic’s Annex on June 23. I’m still on the fence for this week’s Annex, though. Should I cover the Hall of Fame Announcement, the ARCA race from Saturday, or the Seat Swap? Put your suggestions in the comments section. I will be prepared to do any of the three.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique,
feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. Also, if you would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. And if you would like to contact any of the TV partners personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:

FOX
SPEED
ESPN

As always, if you choose to contact the network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Matt
06/14/2011 11:21 AM
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John Daly said TNT took Noble’s role away from RaceBuddy because TNT felt it was taking away from the broadcast.

Steve
06/14/2011 01:19 PM
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I seem to remember a certain All star race about a month ago that took over 2 hours to start the main event due to halftime WWE-like driver introductions taking way too long. Now Kes knows Nascar fans feel when we are subjected to “the show”.

While I didn’t like the long gap in between races, nor the format of the draw for the 2nd race, I did enjoy the interviews with ALL the drivers, including the back markers.

Phil Allaway
06/14/2011 02:59 PM
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Matt, if that’s true, then it’s a shame. Without a dedicated reporter, RaceBuddy is useless before the race.

Andy
06/14/2011 07:05 PM
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Although Racebuddy does a split-screen when the ad comes on, it’s the same ad over and over and over and over and over. Coca-Cola needs to spend some bucks and put up at least 4 rotating commercials.

Watched the 1st Indycar race but LeMans was my focus for the weekend. The AutoSport feed runs mostly 10 second commercials with a one or two minute break about once an hour. MUCH better than TNT or Fox.

No problems with RaceBuddy using Firefox 4.0.1

Marybeth
06/14/2011 07:10 PM
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With nothing but more about Anthony Wiener & Casey Anthony on the news, I am extremely grateful for a 24 race in Le Mans, the l-o-n-g Pocono race, not 1 but 2 Indy races, & throw in the longest F1 race ever; odd that, a few weeks ago in Charlotte was the longest Nascar race ever. On Sunday the Pocono race & the F1 race started at the roughly the same time, the Pocono race finished first! :) Thanks & kudos to all of the racing officials, emergency workers, broadcasters and tv folks who put the shows on.

Chris
06/15/2011 12:09 AM
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Phil,

I’ve noticed Turner Sports has a tendency to end game coverage before the end of the viewing window if it finished well short of the end of the window. I noticed that a couple of times during March Madness. That could be an explanation of why TNT left air early.