TNT has NASCAR rights for six races throughout the summer months between Fox's early season and ESPN's late season coverage of the sport. Saturday night, TNT's airing of NASCAR's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona Saturday night drew the ire of racing fans across the country not because of the announcers, or the camerawork, or the production qualities, but for something that annoys fans and TV watchers everywhere.
In fact, it's nothing new for TNT as they've been criticized throughout the summer and in the past for the amount of commercials the network airs that interrupt the live telecast. Respected NASCAR writer Jeff Gluck of USA Today called last year's race at Kentucky "virtually unwatchable" while at SB Nation and called the amount of ads flooding NASCAR telecasts "the single greatest problem facing NASCAR today." That may be a bit strong, but it shows the fever pitch at which commercials interrupting broadcasts are becoming a major issue for NASCAR fans over the last couple years. Here are a few tweets from Saturday night showing disdain over that problem...
400 is not the number of miles but the number of commercials on TNT tonight. #NASCAR— The NASCAR Country™ (@NASCARFanNation) July 7, 2013
TNT running snippets of race between commercials #nascar— George Diaz (@georgediaz) July 7, 2013
You're watching Commercials on TNT brought to you by #NASCAR.— The Catch Fence ™ (@TheCatchFence) July 7, 2013
The website CawsnJaws has taken to tracking commercial stats for races and found that during Saturday night's race there were 143 minutes of race broadcast time and 46 minutes of commercial broadcast time, or 25% of coverage. That was down from between 27-29% of commercial time in TNT's previous races this year. For comparison's sake, Fox's races ranged wildly between 20-30% but was most often in the low 20's percentage wise going as low as 18% for the 2013 All Star Race and 31.5% for the Daytona 500. ESPN's time in commercial with no racing being shown was well into the low teens for last year's Chase, utilizing side-by-side coverage much more than Fox or TNT. In side-by-side coverage, the race is shown on a split screen with commercials - it's an innovation useful for NASCAR fans who don't want to miss the action. Again, all those stats can be seen at CawsnJaws.
Saturday night, there was only one period of race coverage longer at Daytona than 10 minutes without commercials until TNT televised the last 34 laps commercial free thanks to agreements with sponsors for 51 minutes. Much of the angst over TNT's commercials can be seen in this strategy, although it's ultimately a benefit when the race reaches its climax. TNT is simply stacking commercials in the early and middle portions of the race so they can air the final stages without commercials. Although the stats seem to suggest TNT shows more commercials than Fox or ESPN, it's not by an obnoxiously huge margin. Their commercial strategy is a double edged sword to be sure - fans feel commercials are interrupting the race at insufferable intervals early on, but the trade-off is in seeing the last X number of laps without commercials at all.
There may be a bigger point to be made here with the innovation of side-by-side advertising, though. Perhaps NASCAR fans are getting used to having their races interrupted with fewer cutaways to commercials and more split screens where they don't miss live racing. That could be the source of much of the angst directed at TNT seeing as how they have the fewest side-by-side breaks of the three NASCAR networks.
Regarding the furor over commercials in the Coke Zero 400 Saturday night, a Turner spokesman says, “TNT debuted the Wide Open concept in 2007 and we continue to evolve the model to best serve the collective interests of our fans and advertisers. This year’s approach ensured our viewers were able to see all of the action at the pinnacle moment of the race – with nearly the entire final hour of the race televised without commercial interruption – while also providing exclusivity for our sponsors Coke Zero and Sprint.”
Could TNT go back to their Wide Open/side-by-side coverage in the future? Possibly, but it depends on whether or not networks and advertisers want to make the commitment. Could TNT make an adjustment in spacing out commercials? Yes, but then NASCAR fans may complain about the last laps not being commercial free. There's a definite give and take there and maybe a better balance could be struck.
NASCAR races and commercials is something that may be worth keeping an eye on in future weeks and years. More side-by-side advertising could be the wave of the future (and reports in SBJ a while back were that Fox Sports 1 is highly interested in the concept). For NASCAR though, the reality is that it's always been this way with breaks between racing. Sometimes action is going to be missed because unlike the NFL or NBA, the races don't stop and wait for TV timeouts. As long as their are going to be sports that don't have natural breaks, there's going to be complaints about advertising interrupting them. It's the nature of the beast.
It sure was a quick race to watch on DVR. I would have hated trying to watch it live though. So many periods of commericals to have to sit through.
I think most people would be fine with less than an HOUR of commercial-free racing if it means they get to see the earlier part of the race. Heck, 20 minutes might be enough. The "climax" is probably the last 10-20 laps at most.
I rarely watch anything live anymore so did not really notice the commercials with the advent of the DVR. I do have two comments, though :-). I think they could have added another 5,000 or 6,000 references to Coke Zero, which I would not consume if there was an AK-47 pointed at my temple. And I had to hold myself back from going to Home Depot and purchasing a brick to throw at the TV during the Sprint Cup 60 or whatever it was that wasted a minute of my life with a contest that paid money to whoever could tweet the fastest. That said, however, I was thrilled to see that ESPN on ABC continued to NOT SHOW THE TIMES ON THE LAST PIT STOPS, AGAIN, at the end of a race (this time at Pocono; the last was AT THE INDY 500). Because DAMN.
It should be noted that NBC Sports Network always airs their Formula 1 races with side-by-side coverage, and to say they're still going around in circles could very well be inaccurate. During those commercials you could have a major wreck. you could have tires blowout. You could have pit stops. There a lots of little things that affect the race that you don't see unless the network airing it uses side-by-side coverage.
Please note I'm not a racing fan, but I can say from the 2 races that I have seen that all these little things are factors the most obsessive fans want to know.
Let me help you out with the commercial breaks, people. THEY ARE STILL GOING AROUND IN A CIRCLE........Get over it
The next thing you know, they will be decking out all the cars with advertising. With so much confusing, the announcers will tell us which 'sponsored' car is leading the race, involved in a crash or making a pass.
They may even move races to Texas, Arizona, Kansas or California so they can get new sponsors to invest in the racin' business.
This will lead to racing 'teams' having 3-4 cars in the race to get the maximum out of the advertisers dollar. Of course, the real reason for this will be kept a secret, because they won't want you to know that Jimmy purposely caused a wreck in the back so his teammate Johnny could make up his half-lap deficit.
With all due respect, they do need to promote Rizzoli and Isles to the target audience of southern men who like watching cars go in circles for four hours.
They are bad...every race, two or three key events are missed due to all the commercials...a major round of green flag stops this week...
But...aren't they watching rolling billboards anyway? ;)
A little more communication with the fans would be a good thing in general.
I had heard what they were doing before watching the coverage, so I went in knowing they were probably trying to front-load commercials. Part of the problems I had stemmed from one sequence. TNT cuts to commercial, then caution comes out for a wreck in commercial. They come back from the commercial block, take about 30-40 seconds to explain the wreck, then said, "pit stops coming up after this break!" Only problem was, by the time they came back, all the cars were leaving pit road. With almost all of the cars off pit road, they went right back to commercial.
Once they were in the "commercial free" coverage, they still did a split-screen with an ad for Coke Zero, and a really stupid texting contest for Sprint.
Sadly, this is the most I've written about NASCAR, ever.
TNT didn't do a good enough job explaining that to the viewer, so I would have reacted differently knowing that ahead of time and there were fewer cautions at the start of the race. I am sure these are the times TNT hoped to get the commercials, instead they had to cut away from live racing. Just do a better job of reminding the viewer and the situation will be better next time.
@Mike Markham I'm sure you'd be saying the same thing if it were football/basketball/baseball playing on through commercials while you miss out on the action.
Quality over quantity. You description hit the nail on the head and saved me from typing the same thing. To summarize, "Holy Crap we just came back from a long ass break and they are going to commericals again?!?!"