Tuesday’s item on TV broadcasts and pirate internet streams generated plenty of comments and reaction. It became clear fans around the world appreciate any kind of video.
Did you know many race organisers pay for TV coverage? Whilst events like the Tour de France or Giro d’Italia can name their price in front of the broadcasters, smaller races struggle. It’s not uncommon for the organisers of a minor stage race or one day to pay for the production of TV images, or at least to make a contribution. Some figures I’ve seen put the daily cost of filming at €50,000 a day, a price that includes hefty logistics, the mobile production crew and precious satellite bandwidth. It can be much higher for big races that go to town with high definition feeds and aerial relays.
But many races like the TV coverage, indeed it is essential to attract sponsorship. The promise of TV images changes everything, it lures sponsors who know that even a few adverts on daytime TV will cost them a six figure sum, getting their via race coverage costs a lot less. But one way to boost the coverage and viewing figures, to rope in even more sponsors for a race, is to show the race around the world. That’s been the policy of the Giro d’Italia and I think it’s a winner.
In 2010 the Giro reached an estimated 350 million households around the world, from Norway to Mexico. That dwarfs the still-impressive count of 10 million roadside fans. “Last year, the live stream had an average of 37,000 unique visitors a day” says Lorenzo Giorgetti, commercial director of RCS Sport. The beauty of this is that the TV images exist already for the domestic broadcast, streaming is simply piggybacking this to beam it around the world. The additional costs are tiny yet the reach is huge.
There are issues of “cannibalism”, where people watching the stream might not bother to watch the TV coverage, thus leaving a broadcaster who paid for the rights devoid of all-important viewing figures. But the answer to this is two-fold. First to make sure the stream is acceptable but not glorious High Definition, to make it a poor substitute for TV and thus encourage people to opt for the TV if they can, and only to watch via the internet if there’s no TV. Second to put advertising on the stream itself, something the Giro did last year by advertising the regional produce of Italy, thus making the stream pay for itself.
It creates a win-win situation. Fans around the world get to watch a race and the organiser boosts coverage substantially for only a small additional cost. As one reader pointed out, streaming is becoming big business, and legitimate too. The technology is there, it only takes a revisit of the broadcasting agreement and some motivation to make it happen.
Can it be done? Yes. Will it be done? It’s too much to expect cycling to take the lead here but as technology evolves, the whole concept of sports broadcasting could change. Video streams could well be the saviour of struggling race organisers.