Changing Channels

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Well, it appears the ongoing evolution of Speedvision has taken yet another turn.

Earlier this year, Fox acquired Speedvision with the intention of rebuilding and refining the channel for gearheads. Later, Fox inked a deal with CART for a ton of open-wheel coverage, including all sorts of fender-less programming plans to the mix.

At the time, word of the CART deal, suggested that the concept of an all-NASCAR channel was fading. See, as part of NASCAR's deal with the networks, NASCAR and Fox agreed to partner on such a channel down the road.

And, because Fox had an ownership position in Speedvision - one, which everyone knew, would be increased - it appeared to most that Speedvision would simply become the NASCAR channel.

That hasn't happened, of course. But this week, as part of NASCAR's fanfare in New York City, it was revealed that Speedvision, which is being renamed the Speed Channel, will air NASCAR-related programming weekdays from 3 p.m. to midnight.

The concept is being billed as a "channel-within-a-channel. The programming block will be called NASCAR TV. Now sportsfans, that's about as close as one can come to launching an all-NASCAR channel without actually renaming the whole channel NASCAR TV.

Not that that's a bad thing. Not at all.

But what this announcement means is that the heart of the Speed Channel will indeed be NASCAR. By turning over the hours of 3 p.m. to midnight on weekdays to NASCAR programming, the channel programmers are in essence saying this is the best stuff we've got.

The folks at CART must be spinning mad.

Really, could there be any other real hours to have a NASCAR channel? Certainly, NASCAR's TV partners do not want NASCAR related fare airing against their weekend telecasts of real races.

So, no matter what a NASCAR channel looks like, weekends would clearly be less desirable, because ideally programmers want to funnel fans to the
broadcast channel telecasts of NASCAR races.

As it stands now, the NASCAR TV portion of Speed Channel will include telecasts of classic and historical races, original news and lifestyle programs, season previews and reviews, special event coverage, and replays of the Fox produced shows such as NASCAR Tech," “NASCAR Victory Lane" and "Totally NASCAR."

"It's fair to say that from this point forward, that due to its popularity, NASCAR programming will drive the Speed Channel," network president Jim Liberatore said in making the announcement.

Speed Channel, with the heavy NASCAR component, is set to launch Feb. 11 just in time for Daytona.

Elsewhere, the folks at NBC and Turner wrapped up their portion of the NASCAR TV package with strong ratings and a red balance sheet.

Ratings for the second half of the season were up 34% over the same period a year ago, following on equally strong numbers for Fox' telecast in the first half of the year.

However, financially, all involved lost money on the coverage.

"We had the misfortune of launching it in the worst memories of any executive at NBC Sports," said NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer.

Schanzer admitted there was some advertiser skepticism about NASCAR programming working on broadcast television. There have been estimates that combined the partners lost $100 million this year. Nielsen ratings, however, should have allayed some of those fears going forward.

"The one thing this proves is there is a core audience for NASCAR that is very substantial and that this core audience is growing," Schanzer said. "It's growing in terms of distribution, location and character."

Schanzer doesn't expect wholesale changes in the look of NBC's telecasts next year - the network starts with the Daytona 500 - with the major shift, perhaps, being the departure of Wally Dallenbach from the broadcast booth.

Dallenbach, he said, has indicated he may want to return to driving.

"We'll make modest, in-race adjustments," Schanzer said. "Tuning up, rather than putting on a whole new chassis."

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2001

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