Some insight into the new IndyCar TV package
Prior to Sunday's IndyCar race at Chicagoland we caught up with Bill Bergofin, Senior Vice President Marketing and Promotion for Versus and, Marc Fein, Executive Vice President Programming Production and Business Operations for Versus to find out some more details of the new IndyCar TV deal with Versus.
Q: Tell us about how you are going to launch this property as compared to other properties?
Bergofin: A major launch is planned in 2009 and it will be treated at the same level as we would any of our major properties and give it what it is due. We will do the best launch as we have other properties we will begin communicating it out early with the IRL and meeting with teams and other people involved in this sport that we will begin to partner with and through other outlets that we have. Big marketing campaigns around the launch come next March into April into the event. We have seen an incredible growth over the last couple years and we look forward to continuing that with the IRL. We’ll help over the course of certainly the beginning to contribute to a ten year deal that we will be involved with the sport as well as the network.
Q: How will this IRL program compare to your NHL program in terms of status for Versus?
Bergofin: I think we hypo-serve passionate fan bases of multiple sports and we cover those sports with the same deference that we would the next. We do not play favorites. We want to do what’s right for each of the properties we have and maximize those relationships so it’s up there.
Q: How far along is the planning at this point for the IRL? What kind of programming are we looking at that might give this sport a little boost?
Fein: The things that we know what we are going to be doing obviously is we are going to be doing three hour windows for each race to give us more time to cover personalities behind the scenes. One hour qualifying preview show a day before each race, which is also going to help us build the excitement for that weekend. We are going to be replaying all the races we do weekdays on a Monday or a Tuesday, late afternoon. We’re looking to broadcast Indy Lights again whether it is 30 minutes or one hour we are not sure yet, but it will include replays. With things around the centennial with Indy 500 celebrations in May, other than the race itself which you know is on ABC, it’s to be the home of Indy on Versus with enormous coverage on the weekend and the week leading up to it. So we are getting into all those conversations now but we know those are the types of things we will be doing and as we obviously get into the relationship and things are cranking, we will look to do even more.
Q: I know the focus of your network is hard-core sports for hard-core fans. What are some of the approaches you want to take in this sport that say we will be different than what we have seen on other networks?
Fein: I think for us to dive deeper by having expanded hours will allow us to get more of the personality, more of the behind the scenes and another key component would be more the strategy of the sport. A deep dive into the strategy that goes on out there. We want to have some fun too. We want to be able to do behind the scenes tidbits like how does a starter work. With the expanded hours, it’s going to allow us to take a deeper dive than others have done in the past.
Q: Who will be the on-air personalities next year?
Fein: We are in discussions right now internally and we need to just look into all that, so no decisions have been made yet. Looking at the landscape of who’s done it now, previously, who has maybe never done but can do it, it's kind of a nice blank sheet of paper and we just want to make sure it is the right decision so we are going to take a little bit of time in making those decisions.
Q: Whose decision is that, yours or the leagues?
Fein: That decision ultimately we want to work in tandem with our partner. And also talking to all the teams today, we want to get feedback from a lot of people to know we are making the right move.
Q: Might they be different than what ABC would use?
Fein: It's possible, yes, we definitely as we get properties like to put our own brand and stamp on them. For hockey it was a combination of people who have done it in the past nationally vs. some other folks who we brought on to give them their chance. So we want to be smart and credible obviously and have the right people out there but we also want to infuse some life into it.
Q: A lot of people look at the way racing has been done over the years. Other than maybe FOX that came in with a lot of innovations it's been kind of the ‘same ole same ole’ for a lot of years. Do you guys have some ideas for innovations?
Fein: One of the reasons we are here this weekend is to take it all in and see if any ideas kind of come to mind either on our own or from talking to a lot of folks. We definitely want to look at that again in terms of whether is just simple things in qualifying having the average speeds of the lap up there and doing the calculations trying to convey messages just like that here is what he needs to do in the fourth lap, and other technologies. We are going to look at everything. There is nothing in place right now. But I think over this relationship, because it is so long, we definitely want to be innovative and want to hear from the fans, the viewers, and the teams on what can be done to make the viewing experience better.
Q: It was mentioned that you were really going to hit hard at growing. You grew to 12 million homes so far this year and when this thing launches you are really going after it. Having Comcast as your owner and they are the biggest cable network, they have to be able to promote upcoming events such as NHL now and IRL.
Fein: In terms of cost promoting, we are definitely using all of our platforms, the NHL, college Football, Marshall Arts. We are definitely going to hit those audiences and promote with the IRL and cross promotionally with Comcast and things they do in terms of distribution. We are in 74 million homes now in the country and the growth now is market by market. We are available everywhere.
Q: What is the initial interest of advertisers?
Fein: We are just beginning to get packages together and out on the streets now. We are beginning to hit the streets hard. We are working with some of the teams and their sponsors as well.
Q: What about some of the technical innovations that you want to try. I know you got a lot of high marks on the NHL telecasts for some technical advances you have done on telecasts. What are some of the things you would like to see done differently?
Fein: I think that is something over the next month or two the fun stuff, now that the deal is done, don’t have any hard-core examples now, over the next few months we will brainstorm and come up with some cool stuff. HD will be key on the 24x7 channel.
Q: There will be another channel?
Fein: Versus HD, that’s correct.
Q: What kind of distribution will that have?
Fein: Right now we share a channel with the Golf Channel. We are north of 15 million homes and be able to grow that base. HD is a big driver for selling television so that will be a big growth area for us in terms of distribution.
Q: What about international? ESPN International did that before, are you guys going to take that over?
Fein: We are working with the IRL to figure out who the best distributor will be. It could be ESPN International again. We are open to utilizing whichever organization that will maximize exposure of the IRL internationally. Those are the types of conversations we will be having in the next month or so to see going forward what party should do that in the short term, and then take our time to figure out long term what makes more sense.
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