Saturday, March 14, 2015

TVG/HRTV: Early returns are discouraging, at best

Recently, I wrote the following in my TVG/HRTV merger post:

"The worst case scenario is TVG taking all the good content from HRTV, running dual channels until the full acquisition is complete and then simply shutting down HRTV. I don't think that's what they plan on doing but that's the nuclear option."

I'm generally pretty optimistic but, at this point, I'm preparing for a nuclear winter.

We're barely a month into the new TVG/HRTV world and it's becoming pretty discouraging as to where TVG is headed. Over the last few weeks, HRTV was relegated to an after-thought in terms of top racing action, TVG sucked up Gulfstream (which they've been dying to broadcast for years), while at the same time the two channels continue to show races on tape or just flat out show the same races from the same track... live. Like Laurel and Tampa. Seriously, who the hell is in charge at TVG?

Merging TVG and HRTV provided an opportunity for growth. Growth that would require some work and foresight from our new racing TV overlords, but growth nonetheless. TVG could - if they were really interested in pushing the broadcast of horse racing to the next level - could have pushed for better distribution, improvements to broadcast quality (including real HD), and set up a two channel network that would allow players and fans to watch all races through their satellite or cable provider. And all those things could still happen. But if you've watched TVG and HRTV at all the last two or three weeks, it's really hard to see that scenario playing out. The cautious optimism I felt last month has given way to expected pessimism. 

It'll be hard to push for greater carriage of HRTV if TVG decimates its sister channel's prime attractions. But, really, what does TVG care? They got Gulfstream now,  along with Churchill (and, to a lesser extent, the Fair Grounds and Arlington Park), which is pretty much all they ever wanted.

The biggest loser in all of this (besides, as usual, the fans)? The small tracks.

Once HRTV is gone (and it's hard for me to see a world where we have two racing channels a year from now), the small tracks are pretty much gone from national TV. With two channels, the opportunity is there to show races from both large and small tracks on a consistent, daily basis. But in a world where TVG is broadcasting racing from NY, Florida, Kentucky and California, do we really expect to see more than three or four races in an hour?

Personally, if you really wanted to market two racing channels to content providers, you need to make them both attractive products. You're can't make one into a Cadillac and the other into a Yugo (no offense to the Yugo). You might be asking, "how do you make both tracks attractive to the viewing audience?" It's amazingly simple: it's called scheduling. Let's take today's racing action (March 14, 2015) and break it up between the two channels:

TVG1 1stPost TVG2 1stPost
LRL 12:30 TAM 12:40
PRX 12:55 GP 1:00
AQU 1:20 LD 2:00
FG 2:25 OP 2:05
HAW 2:50 SUN 2:55
SA 3:30 TUP 4:25
PEN 6:00 TP 6:15
DED 6:30 MNR 7:00
REM 7:00 CT 7:05

LA 9:00

I created a schedule based solely off when tracks run their first race of the day (represented in ET) and then alternated back and forth between TVG1 and TVG2. It wasn't hard as it involved being able to read and use Excel. I made one change - my orignal breakdown had TVG1 getting OP and TVG2 with FG. Since OP has a big stakes card today (as does SA, which landed on TVG1), I moved OP to TVG2, thereby balancing the two stakes cards and allowing for maximum coverage of both (instead of one channel trying to do all the work). It's a simple solution.

So what do we end up with today? TVG1 gets NY and the big card out at Santa Anita. TVG2 gets Florida and the big card in Arkansas. Neither NY or Florida have big stakes cards today, so that balances out. Additionally, the smaller tracks (especially the ones out West or with late start times out East), are balanced between the channels. I put Los Al over at TVG2 which would leave a big open spot on TVG1 for racing from Japan or Hong Kong.

*I didn't even try to put harness tracks on the schedule but, needless to write, there would be plenty of content available for viewing later in the day.

This isn't rocket science - it's sound scheduling. It's sound management of two broadcast properties to ensure they both flourish in the future. It seems so easy that I'm not surprised in the least that our new TV overlords have no intention of going in this direction. Because, horse racing, right?

(We could even go one step further and, gasp!, coordinate with the tracks to ensure post times are spaced appropriately. I know, I know, that's atom-splitting stuff. We have to learn to crawl before we learn to walk.)


  1. And where the hell is Laffit Pincay? He's the best anchor out there? Unless NBC hired him, TVG is making a huge mistake.


    1. Tvg gone to hell in a hand basket but Todd s survives life ain't fair

  2. Tribe!

    So, so true. Pincay is hands down the best. I like Brad Free, as well. Actually, I liked most of the HRTV guys. Sad state of affairs.

  3. And I just now saw Siegel's tweet that he and Aaron didn't have their contracts renewed (and didn't seek renewal). Crazy. Aaron wasn't my favorite on-air guy, but Siegel really knew his horses (and, really, I think Aaron does, too). Both are very knowledgeable and an asset to racing coverage. I can't say the same for everyone over at TVG where "flash" seems to be valued over "substance". At least some of the time.

  4. If only Aaron had screamed about pick 4 tickets he would still be part of the staff.


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  6. My $150 a month UVerse package lost TVG last winter, and now I have HRTV showing me $5,000 claimers from Hawthorne and Laurel on "Big Cap" day. Boy, this merger is really working out well for me so far.

  7. Yeah, killing HRTV is screwing over a lot of players/fans that only have HRTV. It just makes no sense to completely gut all of HRTV's programming if you (TVG) are actually serious about building each network (as they claimed in their press release). As it stands, we can only conclude that TVG was full of... well, you know.

    I have HRTV on Dish; it's the #1 reason why I have Dish as Comcast in Seattle only has TVG, which Dish gets me both networks. Prior to the merger: I watched 80% HRTV/20% TVG. Now? Probably 90/10 towards TVG. It's sad.