January 25, 2011
How's this for a fine Sunday: prerace festivities at 12:30 p.m. Eastern, green flag at 1:10, checkers around 4:10, postrace wrapping at 4:30. In, out, done, bang. Sweet, right?
That's exactly how Fox Sports chairman David Hill sees an ideal race breaking down, timewise if not schedule-wise. Speaking at the NASCAR Media Tour on Monday, he advocated shorter races that fit comfortably into a three-hour window. "I think the racing is far too long," Hill said. "There is more diversion, more opportunities for stuff than any other time in man’s history."
Fox, of course, has all kinds of reasons to push for shorter races. More definable finishing times could help stop the ratings slide, as fans in an on-demand world look for entertainment that doesn't have the potential to stretch on, minutes into hours.
Fox has held NASCAR rights since 2001, and those rights run through 2014. Hill said he'd like to continue broadcasting NASCAR after that, but that it would be a "business decision." (Don't take anything negative from the fact that Hill didn't express unbridled optimism. That's not the smartest negotiating position.)
Hill also advocated consistent start times, again to help the fan who has too much on the schedule already. "For me, I would have continuity," he said, as quoted in Landmark Newspapers. "I would have truck race on Friday night, I would have the Nationwide race Saturday night and I would have the Cup on at 1 o’clock Sunday. Bang, so everyone knows when it’s on. Everyone knows the football games. Football games are 1 o’clock Sunday. Football games 4 o’clock Sunday. There’s a game on Monday night and game on Sunday night. There are too many other things going on in people’s lives."
However, Hill is staunchly against online streaming of races. Part of his objection is an attempt to protect his affiliates airing the races, but part is flat-out generational divide: "Just think about it yourself sitting and watching it," he said. "You’re going to sit down and and look down: where are they? These little pins running around (on the smaller screen)."
But the problem is, Fox shouldn't be thinking about themselves sitting around and watching races. They should be thinking about that fabled, vanished 18-34 demographic sitting around watching races. Of course older fans accustomed to watching races on television aren't going to be interested in watching on an iPad or whatever. But someone who's been raised on small screens? Why wouldn't they be interested in watching on their phone? Dismissing them out of hand is unnecessarily shortsighted.
Hill does make some good points, though, points worth considering. So how likely is he able to negotiate with NASCAR over shortening races? His answer was short and simple:
"NASCAR doesn't negotiate." Well. All right, then.
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