TNT, NASCAR Heat Up Multi-Platform Offerings For Summer Racing Series
By Carolyn Braff
The summer of 2008 marks Turner Network Television’s 25th year of televising the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and to celebrate its Silver Anniversary, TNT is spreading out. The network is providing a multiplatform experience that invites viewers to interact with the television broadcast through integrated online offerings and TNT’s six-week summer series race package will bring fans closer to the track than ever.
“With the crossover between NASCAR on TNT and NASCAR.com, we’ll be providing a much larger experience than race fans have had in the past,” explains Jeff Behnke, executive producer for Turner Sports. “Any time you can get that convergence between online and the television world, that’s where the world is going and we feel like we’re leaders in that.”
TNT and NASCAR.com will provide live and on-demand coverage of the six Sprint Cup Series races, starting this weekend in Pocono and wrapping up July 12 in Chicago, making for a quick-turnaround broadcast schedule.
“The short season does have some challenges,” says Tom Sahara, senior director of IT and remote operations for Turner Sports. “You really have to hit the ground running. There isn’t any ramp-up time, so we put a lot more effort into the preparation.”
Preparation has been crucial in order to coordinate production needs between the television and broadband teams, starting with NASCAR.com’s five streaming video options.
“Turner has made a big push over the last few years to fully integrate all of our properties with new media,” Behnke explains. “We hope to emulate a mosaic that we had on NBA coverage where we had four player cameras on a multi-cam setting. We had a lot of success with that, so our folks at new media felt this would be a great place to try it as well.”
Beginning this weekend, NASCAR.com will offer four simultaneous camera streams, as well as a combined mosaic view. The options are the battle cam, which focuses on on-track competition; the pit road cam, detailing pit adjustments and driver changes; the in-car driver cam, which will change to a different driver every 50 laps, based on an online fan vote; and the race robo, which will stream video from a variety of racetrack angles.
Also new to NASCAR.com is RaceBuddy, an animated character who will make appearances on TNT’s television broadcasts to lead fans from one platform to the next. He will make viewers aware of the site’s other interactive features, including online chats, live polling and show them how to submit questions to be answered on-air by TNT’s announcers.
TNT’s post-race show will air exclusively online, using all seven television announcers and maintaining the on-air look of the network’s television coverage.
The most heralded race in the summer series is the Coke Zero 400, which will run at Daytona International Speedway on July 5. This primetime race will enhance Turner’s integrated online offerings by bringing back the Wide Open coverage that the network debuted last year, with a few changes.
“Last year we had an enormous amount of success with Wide Open coverage,” Behnke says. “Fans were able to watch the race and miss only three green flag laps of racing.”
Relegating national commercials to a flying box inserted on the screen, last year’s Wide Open coverage required TNT to break away from the action only for local cable operator breaks, and this year’s event will follow suit.
“Commercials take up an enormous amount of time, so without them, we have more time to do things than we originally realized,” Behnke explains. “Our goal for this year is to spend more time down on pit road. One of the selling points in our broadcast is our ability to be down close to the action.”
This year’s coverage will also feature more graphical information. A tracker on the bottom of the screen will provide more personalized information about all 43 cars and RaceBuddy will make appearances to direct fans to NASCAR.com’s linked online offerings.
The volume of video, graphics and statistical information in the broadcast might feel overwhelming to some, but for TNT, it is the perfect method to reach both poles of its fan base.
“There’s a fine balance that we try to achieve,” Sahara explains. “You have your more traditional viewers who want to see just cars on the race track, but then you have your younger audience who is much more interested in everything else that’s going on. With the Wide Open coverage, we’re hoping that we satisfy both targets. We are able to present uninterrupted race coverage in the video, and in the graphics space, we can provide additional information for the hardcore fan. The Wide Open coverage is our attempt to really give both viewers what they want.”