TNT has really grown into a great network for NASCAR coverage over the last few years. There were a couple of their personalities that I did not particularly care for when they first started covering the sport. But with those folks moving on to other endeavors and with what could be described as natural growth through experience, TNT has had some really good coverage this year.
They have shown good racing on the track – showing more than one car at a time. The commentary has also been really good. Maybe the reason I like it better than other coverage this year is that the booth is not constantly bringing up their own accomplishments and stroking their own egos. Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach are very personable and knowledgeable on the air. I also like the role that Larry McReynolds covers on TNT. Although his grammar makes my wife (who is a teacher) cringe, there are few if any guys more knowledgeable about race cars than Larry Mac. He does a really good job for them.
This week, however, had it not been for Twitter I would have missed many of the stories and events that happened and were never even mentioned on TV. With about 18 laps left in the race, Kyle Busch had mechanical issues again. That is a big story considering the last three weeks of engine failure they have experienced. But while that was happening the TV coverage was about Brian Vickers driving in LeMans last week.
We also missed a spin by Bobby Labonte that never got mentioned, as well as a spin by Travis Kvapil. I would not have known about any of this had I not been following along on Twitter at the same time. Kevin Harvick ran out of gas coming to the pits, and we did hear about that on TNT – about 20 laps after it happened.
Another complaint I read every week from fans and media on Twitter is about commercials. It is a hard thing for a producer to know how a race will unfold and how to time the commercials accordingly. When the race stays green and there are very few cautions, it shortens the time that they can meet their obligations with advertisers and meet the quota they are contracted to do. I get that. What I have a problem with is putting so many commercial breaks back to back where there is more time in commercials than there is covering the race.
Sometimes it just seems like there are more commercials than coverage when in fact that is not the case. Maybe it’s just because we hate an interruption to the racing action. It is magnified when a commercial causes a network to miss something big happening on the track. There is no way to predict that in most cases and that is just the nature of the beast. But I went back and timed some of the ratios in today’s race to get real evidence of what seemed like excessive commercials.
We returned from commercial on lap 77 to be greeted with 11 seconds of racing. Then we went to an under-car/in-car split screen in the car running 18th for the next 1:55 That was immediately followed by another commercial break. Maybe I should include that 1:55 in commercial time because we had the sponsors of the 1 car prominently displayed on our TV screens the whole time. The fact that they spent so much time showing that angle on the 18th place car and not on a leader tells me that the sponsor paid for that time focused on their logo. The next segment they showed the 18th place car for almost two minutes again.
From lap 75 to lap 85, we had 13 minutes 22 seconds of commercials and 6 minutes 17 seconds of race coverage which included the first caution of the race. That included one segment of pit stops under caution (most of which we missed) that was a whole 27 seconds long before returning to another commercial break. It’s even worse if I include the 1 minute 55 seconds I mentioned in that last paragraph, making it 15:17 of commercials and 4:22 of racing during a 19:39 stretch of coverage. Breaking that down to percentage, that means that in that stretch of coverage, about 20% of it was racing coverage and 80% was commercials.
Most fans would not be that upset about the numbers of commercials and the missed action if the networks went to split screen coverage for all of the races instead of just a few. I am more likely to stay in front of my TV longer when there is split screen coverage as I can still see what is happening at the track. Usually during commercial breaks, I take time to grab a drink or snack, or do something else that needs to be done. I believe that I am most like people in that regard, and by doing the split-screen the advertisers would have more people actually watch the commercials.
Another example of missed revenue for ad companies is the fact that many times I cannot watch the race at the time it is on and will watch it later on DVR. Guess what I do when watching on DVR? Yep, I fast forward through the commercials every time. But when I can still watch action on the track even though it is smaller on the split screen, I will not fast forward through it. I really don’t understand why the advertisers and networks cannot understand this.
Hopefully, TNT will get back on the right track next week with their coverage. I understand that road courses are tougher to cover because one camera cannot stay on a single car all the way around the track. There is a lot of switching and moving cameras from car to car, so therefore you are going to miss a few things. I’m hoping that was the case this week. Some of the things that they failed to even mention were inexcusable – a car spinning and a car running out of fuel are a big deal. They are still head and shoulders above previous network coverage this year, but they can do better than that. Maybe they will continue to learn and grow and make improvements.