Stop sending me NBC Sports hate links

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I’m not entirely sure how I got tagged in a tweet and re-tweet festival linking an article at a site called ARS Technica by someone named Jonathan M. Gitlin but I did and it seemed like the thread that would never stop.

Admittedly I have no clue who ARS Technica is or Mr. Gitlin but I am sure they are wonderful folks who do a terrific job but as I, apparently, live under a rock and fail in the hip and cool category, you’ll have to forgive me on my not knowing.

More importantly is the content of the article and resounding refrain from fans tweeting me and using this article as the definitive judgement of NBC Sport’s Formula 1 coverage. The judgement, it seems, is that they should immediately face a firing squad for treason or worse yet, the sword of He-Man infused with the power of Gray Skull.

The article has its share of comments echoing the sentiment but as a person who has visited the broadcast of a live Formula 1 event and seen the people at work and systems in place, I now feel compelled to respond. I have already done so many times on our website but once again, I sally forth and tilt at windmills.

Where NBC is right

Firstly, totaling the time of commercials and non-racing action with a watch is not something new to readers of FBC. We’ve seen many of you do the very same thing for a few years now. The fact that 20+% of a broadcast is commercials is nothing new to us either so I am a bit perplexed at all the F1 fans suddenly becoming self aware due to this article as to the revelation that 20% of a broadcast is littered with adverts. In fairness to Mr. Gitlin, apparently he’s doing a terrific job of bringing this to everyone’s attention because given the response, it seems as if very few US F1 fans were aware that they were watching commercials and in great numbers. Who knew?

Broadcast rights from Formula One Management are tiered and Sky Sports F1 pays a small fortune surpassing many national budgets to carry the amount of content they do. NBC does not pay for that kind of access or coverage including digital packages. Even so, NBC spends millions for the level of coverage they do receive and given America’s anemic viewership, contextually, due to a lack of interest in F1 as well as most races being in the ridiculous hours of the morning, it’s not a lock that they will recoup their expenses. Certainly not a given to justify buying more digital rights.

The package they have is very similar, if not the same, that Fox Sports (SPEED) had and in order to broadcast it, they need on-air talent, production teams, satellite time and a host of other expensive equipment and personnel to make it happen. Not to mention studio space rent and all of the overhead involved.

All of that has to be covered and, like it or not, NBC is using a traditional broadcast model and commercial sales approach to their package. Before you argue they could sell ad space to companies for pre and post race inserts only, keep in mind some of the companies and ads you’ve seen on broadcasts. Phone dating hotlines? Adult super stores? These aren’t massive corporations paying top dollar for a 5am commercial slot folks. It’s only when on NBC or in prime time that you see the types of advertisers get above the belt so to speak.

Where NBC could improve

Now, I have been as critical as anyone over the actual content presented during the race but I also understand that NBC is a slick operation that has a model they follow. They also water F1 down as they continue to measure potential F1 fans so their broadcast is seeker-sensitive or palatable for the casual channel surfer. F1 is complex and this weekend we added yet another sporting regulations regarding brake zones and other nuances and unless you are an anorak, all of this is lost on the casual viewer. NBC knows this and they have to cater to as wide of an audience as they can.

The UK broadcast is a superior product, no doubt, but that’s coming from an anorak and I love that they broadcast as if you do know what F1 is and don’t repeat the simplest of elements every single weekend. But the UK is loaded with F1 fans and they do get it, the US is not. It’s a completely different demographic and market. I’ve argued that a casual observer doesn’t know what a nickel defense in football is but they don’t explain that every week so why F1? That’s because the viewership is huge for NFL (but waning) and it’s a much bigger sport in the US.

NBC has Will Buxton and Jason S. on the ground and the amount of content they could produce would be much more granular (they’re very sharp guys who know the sport) but the broadcast package isn’t designed for granular anorak content so they can get 300,000 viewers per race, it’s designed in the hopes of getting 1.5 million per race by drawing casual and new fans into the broadcast.

I have the honor of calling Steve Matchett a dear friend and you know he knows his stuff and far more than he speaks of during a broadcast so it’s not difficult to understand that the broadcast is a package meant to appeal broadly.

Commercials

The fact is, NBC has to pay for its overhead and production costs and make money. That’s why they sell ad space and they need as much as they can get away with during a broadcast. The production crew and producer calls the shot for commercial breaks and that’s an educated and calculated guess as to when to call it but it’s a bit like predicting earthquakes, it’s tough to do.

Using Mr. Gitlin’s numbers, you tell me where best to place 20% of the airtime in commercials during a race? Admittedly that’s a lot and will ultimately always miss some action in break.

As for B-roll, well, again, F1 isn’t NBC Sports’ only reason for being and they run bumpers and teasers to get you to watch other sporting events on their channel. If you missed my editorial recently on this very issue, you can read it here. The fact is, fans of any sport are getting spoiled.

On-demand generation

NFL, Premier League football, F1, NASCAR…they are all feeling the pressure of an eroding business model in broadcast and there is a serious amount of self preservation going on here. Maybe Liberty Media will swoop in and completely revolutionize the way we watch F1 but until that day, NBC is using a traditional approach.

One of the reasons for this erosion is the lack of patience viewers have for commercials these days. YouTube’s “skip in 5 seconds” button, on-demand streaming with no commercials, cord-cutters and more all have little or no patience for commercials. This has a huge impact on a traditional model for sure.

The bigger question isn’t really how many commercials we can count on an F1 broadcast (admittedly I agree with Mr. Gitlin that NBC is pushing the limit due to the nature of a F1 race format and length) but where is this changing landscape taking not only broadcasters—and their broadcast rights packages and the value of those packages—and advertisers as well? The traditional approach to commercials is eroding and how will the entire ecosystem exist in the future?

Just because people are impatient with commercials doesn’t mean they are dead. I suspect that this model will change to accommodate advertisers in some way or shape eventually. too many industries rely on this model. Recall paywalls for newspapers or streaming sites that inject commercials into their content regardless if you like them or not.

We can argue that the consumer is king but unless the consumer is willing to view ads or pay a serious premium to replace lost ad revenue, it will most likely be present moving forward in one guise or another. The notion that everything on the internet is free just doesn’t work for serious content providers with serious infrastructure costs. Simple math(s).

Facebook is monetized by ads, so is youTube and Twitter (at some level and possibly arguable) and we think it’s all free, it’s not. F1 isn’t free either and neither is NBC’s coverage of it…all 80% of it.

End Game

I want to see 100% of the race and I would love for F1’s footprint in the US to grow to such a level that NBC could block out an afternoon for pre, on and post-event programming. Keep in mind, NBC pays for several other sporting series and they will move the smaller series around to CNBC to make room for other major broadcasts. I don’t envy the producers who have to juggle that decision, I can tell you that.

I appreciate Mr. Gitlin’s article and the frustration is reveals but I also appreciate what NBC is trying to do with their model and broadcast package. It’s not completely my cup of tea but then I am a sick, anorak F1 fan who doesn’t need soft-served content. Maybe the better news is that Mr. Gitlin doesn’t need it either anymore and that’s a positive right? Perhaps the sport is growing in the US and Liberty Media can take it over the goal line.

Until that day, I very much appreciate what the entire crew at NBC does for F1. Please know this, I have spoken to many of them and I can tell you that they all know F1 far better than many of the folks I know in the paddock who are credentialed media or bloggers. There is nothing lightweight about the crew at NBC or the broadcast team. Leigh, David and Steve are very much embedded in the series and you should see the notes all three of them bring to a broadcast let alone the support staff behind them. Very sharp folks indeed.

If there were no limiter on Leigh’s rev count, he could speak as in-depth on the series as anyone else you may know. That, however, is not his role as a professional broadcaster who has created a very nice career as a multi-disciplined on-air talent professional.

My proximity to the crew affords me a different angle but I am always reticent to let the bravery of being out of range have it’s will on something that few folks have seen in action. If asked, I’m sure they would all say they have areas they would like to improve and if resources were there and the audience was there, they would. As it is, they work their tails off and I, for one, appreciate it and that’s why I put the stopwatch down many moons ago.

Hat Tip: ARS Technica

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Alianora La Canta
Guest
Alianora La Canta

I’m not sure how much of the effect may be due to awareness of other countries’ ad quotients. I can tell you that in the UK, Sky and Channel 4 are both restricted in the amount of time they can spend on ads – and not just because the appetite for in-race live ads is low. It’s a different figure depending on the time of day, but anything more than 7-9 minutes per hour (peak allows less time than off-peak) and there would be problems with OFCOM (the TV regulator). There are other restrictions on break length, frequency and when… Read more »

Negative Camber
Guest

It’s a very good point on regulation that limits the amount of adverts and that may very well play a part, I do not know. Good points to consider though.

Tom Firth
Guest
Tom Firth

The other reason is that the BBC rewrote the book on how to broadcast F1 in the UK after the very ad heavy ITV coverage, and because of being the BBC, it had no ads in the coverage. When Sky therefore came along with pay to view coverage of F1, in order to attract viewers. They had to realistically put ad free race coverage as a selling point to counteract the backlash from UK fans that a sport that has historically been FTA, was no longer going to be in its entirety. Channel 4 then had to do what Sky… Read more »

MIE
Editor

Channel 4 only shows ten race weekends live (all practice sessions, qualifying and the race), for the other races there are highlights shows, time delayed by four or five hours. The qualifying show is normally about 90 minutes and the race show two hours long. Although go the of these have commercial breaks during the action you don’t miss any key moments of the race as the whole lot is time delayed anyway. Perhaps this model would be better for the US audience, as most races are not run at viewer friendly times, the fans wouldn’t miss any action and… Read more »

Chuck C
Guest
Chuck C

We do at least get a side-by-side feed during many commercials. The thing that bothers me most is when they come back for a break and find it necessary to give us a recap of Lewis’ or Nico’s race wins for the year. No! Stop! Get back to the action.

Zzyzxx
Guest
Zzyzxx

People seem to disregard the side by side during commercials as useless, but I love it. I can follow the action easily. I’m usually time shifting on my DVR, so I actually watch the commercials with the side by side and FF through the one that don’t.

Rob
Member
Rob

I pay a fortune for cable AND I watch commercials. I would love the UK pay tv model where I only pay once (I did when I lived there).

Negative Camber
Guest

I understand but the only thing I would offer is that it is a different demographic and audience there.

Don Thorpe
Guest
Don Thorpe

I just appreciate that at least a major network covers F1 in the US. May not be great, but it beats nothing.

Member

I was one of many who posted the link here on F1B but I also complained about the coverage on my own Twitter page. And I’ve been complaining about it since the series went to NBCSN. I have watched F1 since 1994 when it was on ESPN then it moved to then-upstart ESPN2 the following season. I even endured 2 years of no live F1 broadcasts while my cable provider did not carry Speedvision and had to settle for the races tape-delayed by 1 to 7 days on the regional Fox Sports channel. So I strongly believe I deserve better… Read more »

Negative Camber
Guest

I understand and I have had the same frustrations for sure. The issue is, the broadcast package is set to harvest new fans and fit the traditional package with bumpers, b-roll features of other programming etc. For anoraks, Sky Sports is a more consumable and germane viewer experience for sure but again, they pay big dollars/pounds for the amount of access and coverage and are in a different league than what NBC is when it comes to F1 footprint. I think there isa lot that NBC could do with their programming for sure but I know the folks there and… Read more »

Member

I don’t expect full blown immersive broadcasts like Sky but NBC has the resources to improve its product. And if it bumps against a NASCAR race, they could easily move it to CNBC which has greater home penetration and availability than NBCSN and that channel shows infomericals on the weekends. The USGP should be the crowning showcase of the season for NBCSN/NBC and they blew it in 2016.
I hope Chase Carey and Liberty Media kicks them to the curb soon.

Member
Fast Freddy

I’m old enough to remember when Monaco was broadcast on Wide World of Sports. I’d watch it with my Mom because the would have figure skating on as well. Lots of commercials and a couple of weeks delay. So I’m not going to complain about NBC.

Dr. Bob
Guest
Dr. Bob

FYI ARS Technica is a prime techno geek website that covers high performance gaming/computing/smartphone electronics. I tend to concur on your readout on the NBCSN F1 crew. I was never much taken with Bob Varsha (sic) but the current crew is about the same. Bob did a better job of running the crew than the race when only David and Steve were on mike. I used to think that Leigh was far superior to Bob, but he seems to fallen back into the same sort of presentation as Bob did/does. NBCSN Live Streaming covers most all of the world feed… Read more »

Negative Camber
Guest

Yeah, I am out of the loop and didn’t know who they are. Our own Tom schooled me on who they are and who the author is and said he really does a great job and I am sure he does, he’s seems like a really good bloke but I just felt there was some context missing from his article that might help us understand why. Mot a dig at the website or author.

Coji
Guest

I get that their current model and approach relies on this format to gain viewers, but is it working? Is it bringing in more than it’s losing or potentially losing because of it? Is is making enough of an impact in their demographic to justify upsetting so many or acting like their approach is correct? Will it work? Have they hit their goals? Have the adjusted anything or listened to the fan base? None of us can answer those, they serve only to show there are several other aspects that need to be considered, in my opinion. However, saying they… Read more »

Negative Camber
Guest

Just a quick point on like or dislike of the on-air guys, that’s a personal preference and really has nothing to do with the broadcast or article I linked. You may or may not like one person or another, heck lots of people hate me so that’s just a personality thing so lets’ keep the personal attacks to a minimum here.

MrBlubz
Guest
MrBlubz

I read the post that this story refers to and found it too similar to many past posts to think about twice. Having worked in TV at national networks for over 30 years I can say that its no surprise that a network would push the commercial use past the point of reasonable expectation. The NBCSN network is the third iteration of an existing sports network and I have found its nature to be disturbing. NBCSN is a network which is called a closed shop. A closed shop is just about the worst thing you could call a TV network.… Read more »

meine
Member
meine

Soundtrack while reading the article:

Ken Hendricks
Guest
Ken Hendricks

I started watching F1 in the late ’80’s. That was if and when I could find it. British coverage may be better oriented toward the true F1 anorak (had to look that one up), but I am extremely happy to have a leading network provide reliable coverage on a regular basis. I have grown up with Messrs. Varsha & Hobbs as a broadcasting duo. Then, having Steve Matchett join, who for all intents and purposes is my best TV friend, well that just made me happy as a clam in mud. Obviously things changed when NCBSN took over. Change is… Read more »

geeyore
Guest
geeyore

NC, just look at the photo at the top of your post. Three guys in suits and ties, sitting at a glass table in some disconnected studio, somewhere. This is the NFL/NASCAR model of sports coverage, and to me it just seems weird. I regularly watch Euro coverage of F1 and other motorsports, and this American production is unique, you just don’t see it anywhere else. It seems scripted and teleprompted, and is definitely overproduced almost to the point of gaudiness. It smacks so much of NASCAR/NFL that it’s (IMO) unwatchable. I think the Ars article uses its focus on… Read more »

MichaelB
Guest

I watched my first IndyCar race on NBCSN this year… Yes it was full of commercials just like the F1 broadcast, but overall I thought NBCSN did a much better job covering an IndyCar race than F1… I found NBCSN’s IndyCar coverage to be much closer to what C4 or Sky offer on F1 – substantial, intuitive, relevant, and thoughtful coverage of the teams, drivers, and race. Their pre and post race coverage was informative and didn’t feel like every third word (let alone every segment) was crafted to drop in the name of a sponsor. And what really ticked… Read more »

The Captain
Guest
The Captain

Late to the party as usual. Well I’m the heel Todd, I almost sent this to you with commentary the other day (Via email since I’m not on the facepage or twitternet). Oppp! I’ve been trying to not rage on here about the NBC broadcast lately. I haven’t stop-watched the commercials in a while and I even wrote up a log rant during the race this weekend of things that need to change. BUT I didn’t post it because I know you’re sick of hearing it. But it’s not my fault man, it’s what I do, literally. Those moving pictures… Read more »

Guy Fawkes
Guest
Guy Fawkes

Personally I enjoy the NBC coverage, minus the commercials. I enjoy Machett, Diffey and Hobbes but “F1 in a tiny box next to a commercial” bugs me to no end. My answer? There is an app called “Tunity”. Point your smart phone at the TV and it figures out what channel you are watching and it gives you the sound for that channel. The real purpose is so one can hear the sports in a bar, if interested. I take a screenshot, load up NBCSN’s sound and turn the TV over to the (commercial free) Spanish language broadcast. I don’t… Read more »