• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

REINVENTING the (TV) WHEEL

Since last week's recounting of business history in the aftermath of the IRL's new cable TV deal with Versus, I've heard from four people with significant insight into this subject: Two reps from current IndyCar teams, one from a former team looking for sponsorship to get back in, and the former program manager of a former major team sponsor which is a consumer products company.

This slice of insider opinion confirms what I wrote: The perception of less exposure value "vs." what was available via ESPN is a dollars-and-cents concern. This is based strictly on total available eyeballs rather than total air time. I best can summarize with this quote from a current team's sponsor finder, currently trying to keep one corporate backer, and looking for at least one more:

"I'm hoping someone (from the IRL) will be able to convince me my job just got easier, not harder."

There's no point in my repeating last week's observations -- if you didn't have a chance to read them, please scroll down to "Perception 'Versus' Reality." An interesting theme that has been picked up by those who have been in contact with me, however, goes something like this:

"Is there anything the IRL and Versus can do to add value?"

Yes.

Dare to be different.

This is an opportunity for both the series and the network to INNOVATE (which, before the age of spec cars, was an Indy hallmark). It's a chance to be BOLD and EXPERIMENT with new ways to present racing on TV. Frankly, fewer households gives the IRL and Versus the flexibility to try fresh ideas and fresh faces (at least a few -- read that, not Indy-based -- it's supposed to be a sport with national interest so more outside-Indiana perspective would be refreshing), something that would be more difficult to do on ESPN. Plus, Versus has promised a lot more air time, so space is available.

See last week's blog for a few suggestions. More:

Panel programs are increasingly popular, so how about a segment or two pre-race (or on the qualifying show) featuring journalists, pundits and industry insiders debating the issues of the day? It doesn't have to be a McLaughlin Group free-for-all to be fun, lively, opinionated, informative and yet respectful to Tony George and his series. But the panelists MUST have credibility, not selected only for big mouths or the media outlet they represent. (As we have seen too often on NASCAR Now and Tradin' Paint.) Larry Henry would be a fair traffic cop/moderator.

Even a casual look at the chatrooms proves fans are interested in how and why sponsors choose teams and drivers; an experienced business-knowledgeable reporter could explore that and many other topics. (Note that business reporting is now an established element of Olympics, Super Bowl and even Daytona 500 coverage.)

We're a People-magazine/photo-op/celebrity-driven society and those kinds of profiles could be done much better than ever attempted. And, let's be honest, the folks are always interested in the paddock chatter about driver and team rivalries, who's happy and who's mad, who's "in" and who's "out," etc. It IS possible to present that part of the IndyCar "experience" to the public in a legitimate and civilized way.

Sponsors and teams should be pro-active and powerful advocates of a new approach. Generating buzz can generate added value for the Versus package.

This much is clear: Repeating the same old formula is an expressway to obscurity.
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The other thing people have been asking me this past week: Did any of the involved parties explain the why or the validity of the "500" label put on the ALMS Road America race?

The answer: NO. Am I surprised? NO.
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News Conference 101: Announce the key NEWS elements in the opening statement, BEFORE taking questions. In the case of Tony Stewart confirming Ryan Newman as his Cup teammate in 2009, that meant how many years they agreed to, and the status of sponsorship for Newman's car. Neither was addressed up-front last Friday at Michigan.

That's called not understanding what the media needs, and not paying attention to the details. Or basics.

Not surprisingly, Ed Hinton of ESPN.com was the first to show his journalist bona fides. And, despite the machine-gun nature of SceneDaily.com's Bob Pockrass' query, it was completely legitimate, and Stewart's retort was less-than-respectful -- and unworthy of the conference room laughter. Here's a question that SHOULD have been asked of Newman, but wasn't: Given what happened to Dario Franchitti, aren't you concerned about signing with a team that doesn't have full-season sponsorship for your car firmly in place?
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Sad $ign of the Time$:

http://www.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idUSN1427376520080814?feedType=RSS&feedName=businessNews&rpc=23&sp=true


Meanwhile, over at the Los Angeles Times, Eddy Hartenstein is the paper's new publisher. You might recall Hartenstein's HD Partners made a bid to buy the assets of NHRA's pro racing operations, but the deal fell through.


I want to acknowledge the passing of Leroy Sievers, the broadcast journalist best known as executive producer of ABC News' Nightline. Sievers died of colon cancer at age 53. In May 1994, I worked closely with Sievers when he field-produced a Nightline for Ted Koppel on Mario Andretti's last Indianapolis 500. It was the most intense -- and I would say THE most satisfying -- professional experience of my career. Leroy reminded me several times that, no matter all our work, the show could get canned if a major world news story broke. Fortunately, we had the entire half-hour the Friday night before the race, a priceless publicity achievement. I still display in my office the Nightline cap Sievers gave me.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]