The IndyCar series kicked off their season two weeks ago at St. Petersburg on the Versus network, and while the on air product was vastly superior to anything ESPN/ABC have given IndyCar fans over the last decade, the TV ratings are initially telling a different story. The final Neilsen ratings scored just 235,000 households. Granted, this was Versus first race with the IndyCar series, but the ratings were down significantly from last year despite Versus’ noticeable efforts at advertising the series.
The on air talent alone was a vast improvement over ESPN. The return of Bob Jenkins is a welcome change for those of us who have suffered through Marty Reid and Todd Harris over the last few years. Robby Buhl or Jan Beekus could either easily fill the role that Scott Goodyear has played recently. And the pit reporting was excellent in comparison to the laughable attempts of Brianne Pedigo.
But where the telecast really shined was the multiple camera angles that were employed. Close shots of the cars rocketing through the urban canyons, wide angle shots that took in the yachts and the cars, great in car footage use (without crawls and telemetry obscuring most of the road ahead) and overall, just a better production all around by open wheel veteran producer Terry Lingner (the original inventor of the in track camera that a certain series has provided much fanfare and gopher animations for).
But even with the improved television package and the bout of Versus advertising along with it, it will certainly take time for the network to build its audience for IndyCar. Versus is not available in all markets and tends to be in higher tier cable and satellite packages. It also has much less exposure in the channel numbering scheme and is less likely to just be on at bars and restaurants. All of which makes it less likely that a casual fan would just happen onto a race.
It should be noted though that Versus intends to draw in more viewers by “superserving” the existing fanbase by providing 7 hours of coverage every race weekend, including a qualifying show, at least a 3 hour race window, an Indy Lights show and race rebroadcasts. And while IndyCar fans have become used to having their race preempted by women’s golf, the St. Petersburg race went long and the cycling fans were unhappy that their program got pushed back on Versus.
All told, Versus will be airing 12 of the 17 IndyCar races this season, so when Indy rolls around we will all either be pleasantly surprised by the improvements that ESPN/ABC have been forced to make to their abysmal coverage, or we will just be greeted with the same old shenanigans that we expect from the Disney TV family.
Even though I have greeted Versus with open arms, glowing comments and an opening of my wallet to upgrade my satellite package, I still have a one complaint.
Ovals and road/street races are not the same product. I appreciate the addition of the “pit strategist” role and hope that Jack will be able to properly convey the behind the scenes strategies going on, but I think it is more important to give us a better idea of what is happening on the track when we are running the twisties. The constant position crawl is helpful, but should not be relied upon to give all your data. Highlight position changes with graphics. Show gap times between cars when showing them on track. Show split times when a car is gaining on another one.
It is much harder for a viewer at home to follow what is happening on a road/street telecast as compared to an oval telecast. The best way to make a viewer understand what is going on is to use data to show what is happening.
But other than that, I really look forward to seeing what Versus does with the Kansas broadcast, since that will be the first time we see them cover an oval. Given how well they acquitted themselves at St. Petersburg, I am expecting even better things from them at KC.