American Le Mans Series President and CEO Scott Atherton has issued an open letter to series fans in response to communications the series has received – and we here at RACER have gotten a lot of them, too – regarding the series' new web-based live race coverage on ESPN3 of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, supplemented by highlights on ABC the following day:
First of all, let me express our appreciation not only for your time and effort to reach out but also for your patronage as a fan. I understand and appreciate the disappointment some of you have communicated at not being able to enjoy our races the same way you might have in the past.
Suffice it to say…our new ESPN television package has everyone talking. Some loved it and thought it was among the best telecasts we have ever done – others, for a variety of reasons, did not. We want everyone to know that we are listening – and responding.
We knew that we were forging new ground with the innovative digital and television package with ESPN, but we have never shied away from innovation or taking the lead in technology – even media content technology. Like many, we are absolutely convinced that digital delivery is the future, allowing fans to watch their favorite programs where, when and how they want.
Before we talk about the telecasts last weekend, let's first reiterate that the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida can be seen in its entirety two ways. ESPN3.com will have it archived for the next three weeks (until April 10); while americanlemans.com will archive all qualifying shows as well as all races on its site in perpetuity. Think of it as your own on-demand video archive.
Now, let's address some of your comments and critiques of our first broadcast.
No ABC broadcast on the West Coast:
This was, indeed, an unfortunate situation. Our two telecast options were to either air all time zones in concert with the 12:30 p.m. Eastern time zone telecast (9:30 a.m. Pacific Time) or time-shift the West Coast so the race would air from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. PT. Because most local network affiliates have contractual commitments to air special programming on Sunday mornings, it was apparent that many stations would preempt the race telecast at 9:30 a.m. Research clearly indicated we would have considerably more viewers at 3:00 p.m. PT, especially since we would follow live tennis. The tennis match that aired prior to our West Coast race telecast slot was a live event, and although it seldom runs past the allotted time, it does have a contractual commitment to be aired in its entirety should the match run long. Unfortunately, the match ran extraordinarily long – 88 minutes long to be exact – and as a result ABC was unable to accommodate any of our 90-minute telecast. We are currently working with ABC to confirm another opportunity to air the broadcast of the race to the West Coast markets.
ABC show of 90 minutes for a 12-hour race unacceptable:
Having a network component to our races gives the series an opportunity to reach an audience that is substantially greater than what was possible with our previous broadcast package. This is not only a great advantage for our corporate partners and sponsors, but research has shown that this type of programming attracts general sports fans and automotive enthusiasts, not just existing fans of the ALMS. While such a fan may not be quite as knowledgeable about the ALMS as our hardcore fans (who want to see every lap and pit stop of every race), ideally they become intrigued by the cool cars, drivers and great venues as well as the aura of the event itself.
These types of telecasts help the series to grow, which is something we believe our existing fans want to see as well. Yes, we admit that it's difficult to condense a 12-hour event into 90 minutes, and many are not going to be completely satisfied with the content choices. Incidentally, we've had a lot of great comments on the ABC show as a 90-minute race recap broadcast with non-stop, action-packed excitement. I will even admit myself that I was skeptical as to how our team would manage to tell the 12-hour story in 90 minutes, but many of the viewers thought they did an absolutely awesome job producing a show that flowed and kept people fully engaged and entertained.
ESPN3.com – couldn't get it:
Remember the days, not that long ago, when SPEED had only 35 million households and the complaint was much the same? What did many of our fans do? They contacted their local cable provider and demanded their Speedvision (which was its name in its early days). We encourage fans to take a similar approach with their broadband provider. While ESPN3.com is the fastest growing channel in the ESPN family and available in 65 million households (90 percent of the broadband universe), encouragement from broadband users can certainly help expand its reach and thus our audience. And, remember, contact your broadband Internet provider, not your cable TV provider as ESPN3.com is sports programming via the Internet.
ESPN3.com – get it but poor quality; kept cutting out:
Poor quality of the HD signal could be the result of either your broadband provider not having enough capacity/bandwidth or the use of a viewing device that may not be able to accommodate a high-definition video stream. The first issue can be solved by a) asking your broadband provider to improve its capacity, b) upgrading to a higher capacity service if your broadband provider offers such, or c) upgrading your personal viewing device. We received many reports of fans who connected their computers, using VGA/HDMI cables or via Xbox Gold to view our live race broadcast on their big screens and called the telecast "simply amazing.”