TV row erupts in Indianapolis

SEPTEMBER 23, 2000

TV row erupts in Indianapolis

Formula One's efforts to ingratiate itself with America have hit an early stumbling block after a row has developed with the local representatives of the enormous NBC TV network.

The local WTHR-13 TV station has refused to agree to the terms under which race organizer Formula One Management will grant credentials to TV companies for access to the Indianapolis Grand Prix. WTHR-13 News Director Jacques Natz says that the licence agreement seriously compromises journalistic principles.

The agreement, which has been signed by the three other network affiliates, requires that the broadcaster must show a two minute edited highlights package as supplied by FOM, and that they must hand over all extra footage shot by the TV company within seven days of broadcast.

Natz is incensed. "These kind of regulations may work well in communist countries, they may work well in Europe where the first amendment doesn't exist, but in America we should be ashamed of turning over material," he says.

Natz spent Friday negotiating with FOM to get them to change their mind. Incredibly the licence agreement that FOM insisted upon was only thrashed out in the past week. Initially they were reluctant to grant any access to local TV companies.

It seems that Formula One's hardball attitude to TV negotiating, something that is accepted with a shrug of the shoulders in most other parts of the world, is cutting no ice with the Americans who still view F1 as a novelty rather than a broadcast necessity.

Local networks are used to a different relationship with Indy and are struggling to come to terms with the FOM restrictions, described by one media analyst here as a "way of restricting coverage of public events. If we allow this in sports coverage, this is what big business, or organizations or powerhouses in society will do in the future. Will we be only allowed to show certain parts of speeches."

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has traditionally supplied highlights of the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race for a fee but without restriction on how the footage is edited or broadcast. Surrendering of footage has never been required.

This is a bad start to Formula One's rebirth in the United States, although the facilities in Indianapolis have been widely praised and the circuit ticket sales are through the roof for the inaugural F1 event in the seat of North American motorsport.

Bernie Ecclestone himself acknowledged this weekend that the success or failure of Formula One in the US depends on "TV coverage. That's the most important thing for us, to just find a way to get better TV coverage."

In that case, some bridges will have to be built to aggravated US TV executives.

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