Why Show The Whole Race?

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Why was Paris-Roubaix live on TV from start to finish? Pose the question and the answer isn’t immediately obvious.

It’s to do with advertising, the media landscape in France and technology. More and more people are watching normal programs with a delay, either recording the show or using catch-up streaming services, says Daniel Bilalian, the head of sports at France Télévisions in an interview with L’Equipe’s print edition last Saturday.

Television advertising revenue is falling because people can skip over the ad breaks when they watch ordinary shows says Bilalian. By contrast sports events are “consumed” live and by implication people sit through the ad breaks making live events more valuable. Exceptional sports events like the Tour de France and the Olympics also act as rallying points says Bilalian, in that they bring new or returning viewers to France Télévisions – the broadcaster behind two of the three traditional channels in France –  who then stay on for other shows, adding a percentage point or two to the channel’s market share ratings which means they can sell more ads at a better rate. In an era of fragmenting audiences with ever more channels on TV and other means to watch content, a long live production is a way to gain some extra viewers.

One unmentioned point from the interview is that there’s not much else on. Next Sunday afternoon’s schedule on France Télévisions sees repeats of Les Enquêtes de Murdoch, “The Murdoch Mysteries”, a dubbed Canadian TV detective series set in 18th century Toronto. It’s the kind of thing you can imagine playing in the background in retirement homes, hospital wards where patients have their limbs in traction and other places where people are unable to reach the remote. So it’s against the bland offering of the French television schedule that we should see this too.

According to La Voix du Nord, a newspaper, France Télévisions also looking at live coverage for the entire 2017 Tour de France: every stage from start to finish. Paris-Roubaix was a trial run. Some stages have been shown in their entirety in recent years but not all. 21 days means a big logistical effort and a hefty cost. Camera crews, commentary teams and production staff may have to be swapped mid-stage during the longer stages; yesterday’s Paris-Roubaix saw one team of motorbike riders cover the first 100km before handing over to a second crew for the rest of the race.

It’s an intriguing prospect because the demand to watch a bike race in its entirety is not obvious. Even loyal readers who land on a niche cycling blog may have better uses of their time in July so imagine what everyone else does while the peloton rolls across some featureless part of northern France and the only action for hours on end is the feedzone or a puncture for a notable rider.

Get back in your kennel Rex

However it’s probably worth it. Again it’s not just what you might want to watch, it’s a matter of what the alternatives are. The July TV schedules in France don’t offer much competition, the early afternoon slot midweek in France invariably has some repeat detective series like Kommissar Rex, an Austrian show featuring a crime-solving police pooch: a repeat from 10-20 years ago that’s dubbed is going to have a tiny audience. As such sport plays the same role as rolling news coverage, it’s not something you record to watch at a later date so it’ll be on in the background, people can have lunch with the television on in the background and enjoy the meal without having to follow every move of a detective dog for fear of missing a plot twist.

Whether Eurosport and international channels pick up isn’t certain. Eurosport’s model is based on live sport all the time and cycling is a core part of their offering so it’s very likely. But will others follow suit, for example will RAI, NBC, ITV, ARD et al follow? For them the costs are reduced, the image feed is there already and they “only” need to have the production and commentary crews but it’ll depend on their scheduling too, perhaps they have good audiences for the slot? It’s a commercial decision for them and while the French are evaluating whether it works for them, others have different priorities and revenues.

Nothing to see

There could be second order effects. That early breakaway may be doomed but this time it’s going to be on TV for hours, meaning logos of Cofidis or Direct Energie are pumped into millions of homes for hours on end. Teams may dream of stage wins but can find consolation in this, as if to appear on TV is to exist. Was this already a feature of the lively first two hours of Paris-Roubaix? Probably but a factor among others such as team tactics, a crosswind and more. It’s quite possible that during a stage of the Tour de France all the wildcard teams send a rider clear in the first attack and that’s it for the day, no battle. It’s happened a lot in recent years.

I was convened to a meeting with the biggest producer of television images of cycling, France Television, and was told by senior executives clearly that if radios were retained in cycling and used as they were being used that the coverage of cycling on television would be reduced.
– Pat McQuaid, March 2011

If the early start of the race is procedural then the production may have to change too. It was Daniel Bilalian who sat down with former UCI President Pat McQuaid for lunch and told him to get rid of race radios because he feared they were making the race boring and it’s the TV age that gives us those short, explosive stages in the mountains and condemns the time trial because their audience ratings stink. So if TV is already influential in the rules and the route, perhaps it will insist on more intermediate sprints and create topographical alchemy, turning canal bridges in King of the Mountains points. Something needs to happen during a dull stage although we’ve seen many a breakaway nonchalantly roll through an intermediate sprint too.

There’s also a contemporary logic to it all, it is strange for a major sports event to have only partial coverage. An incident early in the stage is a textual matter appearing on the race website’s live feed and Twitter but there’s no video. Can you imagine football, tennis or golf saying “tune in for the last hour of the match” and not being able to show some crucial event that happened off-air? The more you think about it the more covering an entire stage seems essential. Perhaps a lot of the time nothing much is happening but it’s having images of the moments when things happen that matters.

Every pedal stroke on your TV

Conclusion
It works both ways: just as you’re watching a live event on TV the broadcaster knows it has a live audience. This is valuable and the reason Paris-Roubaix was on TV for seven hours was because it suits the host broadcaster in France. It’s an experiment and Sunday’s viewing figures looked supportive with 1.6 million watching in France, an audience share of 14.5%, higher than average, a decent result. Better than quantity is the quality, an audience for live events won’t channel hop or fast-forward past the ad breaks, unlike those watching via replay, catchup and other delayed means. Expect this to be repeated at the 2017 Tour de France for French viewers and Eurosport will likely take up the mantle too.

Roubaix TV Photo credit: Thomas Sweertvaeger from the Belgian book “Supporters Leven Voor de Koers” via the publisher’s media pack

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Sam G April 12, 2016 at 10:20 am

I don’t see this changing the coverage (of the TdF) in the UK that much. Eurosport will benefit form covering the whole race with increased advertising revenue. And ITV can still do a quality highlights package in the evening. That was all types of viewing style ad viewer is covered, and each channel can continue to use their existing coverage/advertising model. However I can only comment on what could happen in the UK.

Nick April 12, 2016 at 12:07 pm

ITV’s live coverage tends to be on ITV4, with only the major stages carried on ITV1. I can see ITV4 covering a whole day’s stage, as it’s usual fare is repeats of 1970s/1980s cop shows and minor sports. The only question is whether they would expect the likes of Imlach, Boardman and Boulting to front this extended show, and if that gives them enough time to prep the highlights show.

The other UK channel to regularly show the TdF, and other cycling, is the Welsh language S4C (another alternative for those annoyed with Phil & Paul or Carlton Kirby?). I doubt they’d show a whole stage, as there’d be no other outlet for Welsh language shows then.

Hammarling April 12, 2016 at 12:47 pm

ITV4 has for the last few years done “extended live” stages, starting their coverage around lunchtime and going through to finish. I could definately see them doing full live stages on some of the key days. Sherwen and Liggett on commentary all day, Imlach just covering pre-stage intro and no real difference to Boardman/Boulting and the rest of the production team.

Doesn’t mean i’d tune in to watch it all, i’ll still do other things and come back for the final hour or two when things get interesting.

Vedrafjord April 12, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Spare a thought for your Irish friends – we have the Tour and Vuelta in Irish on TG4 and that’s it. There’s no way to get English language coverage without a satellite dish or premium cable. RTE don’t cover cycling full stop, for example when Dan Martin won LBL it didn’t even merit a mention in the sports news. The basic Virgin/UPC/NTL/whatever cable package doesn’t include Eurosport – you have to pay extra for that. Also you get ITV4 on cable but when there’s cycling on you just get a message saying “this programme is not available in the Republic of Ireland”.

Breaks my heart every time I read a race preview that says I can watch a race “on the same channel I watch the Tour on”. On the plus side I’ve been watching enough Sporza streams I’m starting to pick up basic conversational Dutch…

Vedrafjord April 12, 2016 at 1:09 pm

The only silver lining is the fact that the TG4 guys know that hardly anyone is watching, so they can get away with saying pretty much whatever they like.

Sidamo April 13, 2016 at 5:51 am

You know you can sign up to Eurosport Player online for a few euro a month and watch everything live there, right?

Dylan April 12, 2016 at 10:29 am

I won’t be complaining about start-to-finish coverage of the Tour de France but I can see myself tuning out for time trial stages. Not the prologue – that’ll be over in a few hours and is usually entertaining – but a longer time trial covered start-to-finish is going to have hours of riders who barely care about doing anything more than making the time cut. It’s not going to make for a lot of interesting TV and it’ll be a challenge for commentators to make viewers care about the first 50 riders they’ll be covering as much as the last 10.

That said, with that much airtime to fill it does open up the chance for some ‘behind the scenes’ coverage. Instead of the odd cross to a car or driver’s window interview with a DS we could go behind the scenes with a team for the day. A little creativity on the part of the broadcaster could make the full day of coverage interesting for the fans, for the casual viewers, and for the people who are compelled to watch it because the person in charge of the remote control has announced that the TV is theirs for the day.

HWSB April 12, 2016 at 11:41 am

Yes – I was in the start village of the TDF 2013 time-trial to Mont St Michel: it was a great day because access to the teams lasted all day, rather than just zooming by on a road stage. Great idea to have a thorough behind-the-scenes day.

Al April 12, 2016 at 3:35 pm

Agree that TTs are great for live spectators. I was at the finish of the 2015 TTT and really enjoyed it. Seeing the different approaches of the teams to the last climb ( Sky had to wait for Nicholas Roche in front of me and lost the stage by less than a second) and also how late the 6-9th riders in each team arrive was revealing.

All the teams headed past in less than 2hrs- hardly inducing attention deficit disorder.

Rob April 12, 2016 at 12:25 pm

There are only 2 things more boring than a time trial stage: ALL golf and ALL tennis. And I watch every second of every Classic and GT that is broadcast live. But I take a rest day for the ITT.

Anonymous April 12, 2016 at 2:55 pm

They are most definitely needed to make the rest of the stages more interesting. It can’t be that to only do them on the weakest days, which I would think are Tuesday and Wednesday…

Cavosie April 12, 2016 at 4:33 pm

I like time trial stages just as much as road stages. TTs are so elemental: a rider on a bike going as fast as he or she can sustain over a set distance. I’d enjoy complete coverage.

The Inner Ring April 12, 2016 at 5:49 pm

Readers who come to a cycling blog may well like them but they’re an audience flop because the action is less compelling. Better TV production techniques could improve this and there’s a degree of investment here in that a TT can rebalance the race and shake-up the GC which could be good for GC so one day’s low ratings could help increase the audience in the following days.

Anch0r April 12, 2016 at 8:04 pm

Crosscountry skiing has tried to emulate lot of cycling, like tours, sprintpoints and whatnot. But in the case of TTs i thin XC-skiing could have something to offer on the productions side, since production of intervall start events has been the bread and butter of those for decades.

Mark Aurit April 14, 2016 at 5:31 pm

Wish I could say the same. I find them excruciatingly boring, no strategy, very few of the chance elements. TTT not quite as bad. I’m all for anything that will make the sport more exciting, such as more intermediate sprints (look a the role they play with the Green Jersey). I wouldn’t shed any tears if the TT went the way of the dodo.

noel April 14, 2016 at 5:39 pm

I’m not too fussed about TTs in themselves (TTTs I like, mainly for the aesthetic!) but what I do like about them is the way, if correctly judged, that they provide a good balance between the mountain goats and the ‘Dumoulins’ which can add to the narrative of a GT tremedously.

Andy Logan April 12, 2016 at 10:30 am

SBS took the coverage from 8.30pm here in Australia, so they missed the first 90mins of racing.

I think for races like Flanders and Roubaix it works well due to the competition to get into the break, but flat stages in France not to much. The exception being stage in the 3rd week which is a clear breakaway day.

I enjoyed watching it end to end on Eurosport on Sunday, didn’t enjoy having to watch the Top 5 onboard cycling crashes a few times.

Pete April 12, 2016 at 10:41 am

SBS actually streamed at least an extra hour before the live TV broadcast. They just neglected to advertise the fact they were planning to do so, so unless you happened to catch their tweet saying they were going live you had to infer from other sources that it was viewable…

Still well done SBS for helping us Aussies! 🙂

Andy Logan April 12, 2016 at 12:30 pm

I watched from the start on Eurosport, it was great.

Satchitananda April 13, 2016 at 1:57 am

Actually, the SBS service to the non-eastern states is pathetic. In WA, SA etc. Paris-Roubaix is the only classic that’s shown live. For the others we get a delayed broadcast that pops up in the early hours of the morning once the usual scheduled garbage on SBS2 has finished. Their bias towards NSW and Vic viewers and contempt for the rest of us is quite disgraceful.

dave April 12, 2016 at 11:51 am

I’ve been known to watch the full stage coverage on Eurosport, then the highlights package on ITV that evening in case I missed anything and to catch the analysis…. An advertisers dream or just a bit obsessive (or both)?

OCD April 12, 2016 at 4:28 pm

And then read more analysis on here, plus the following day’s preview?

Graham April 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

Loved the full coverage of Roubaix…. on previous form it is very likely that Liege will push me back to thinking that just watching the last 20 minutes of a race is plenty.

Marshall McLuhan April 12, 2016 at 4:44 pm

LBL is also full TV coverage? It will be interesting to see what happens.

The dynamics of one-day racing, especially Monuments, are different to stage racing, especially GTs. I think it’s very possible that Sunday’s harum-scarum first 100kms were affected by the full TV coverage and that it is unlikely that TV coverage is a passive factor, a neutral observer, in all race situations.

At the same time, Paris-Roubaix is like no other race for a number of reasons. Teasing out which races or stages can be influenced by full TV coverage, and how much is the effect, and whether that effect is for good or ill overall, might take some time to work out for all concerned.

The Inner Ring April 12, 2016 at 5:51 pm

There’s no live coverage of LBL. Paris-Roubaix was a novelty. There will be some stages of the Tour de France shown in full this summer but not all of them.

Vesalius April 12, 2016 at 11:08 am

5 hours of Paul & Phil. Please no.

jkeltgv April 12, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Eurosport handled it well – 2 “callers” (Rob Hatch & Declan Quigley) with Sean Kelly and it seemed to me they were on a 40 minutes on 20 minutes off rotation so that each 40 minutes one of them got had 20 minutes with each of the others. Talking about their snacks and drinks brought to mind test match cricket radio coverage, and I mean that in a good way. Lot’s of things to talk about while the race was “boring”. I had a 4 page document to proof read and thought I’d knock it on the head before Arenberg….Didn’t get past the first page!

I think the key factor in this is “event” television where the need to engage with social media as it takes place means you’re part of something bigger….you’re sharing the experience with a virtual audience of millions and engaging with them and you can’t do that on catch up. Things like X-Factor, I’m a Celeb and other crap reality shows need to be watched now so you can do that engagement. It’s the future of telly….for better (all day Paris Roubaix) or worse (crap reality tv)

anywhome April 13, 2016 at 8:27 pm

pass on declan quigley. not only does he not know what he’s talking about half the time, his voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard.

J Evans April 14, 2016 at 1:55 pm

The very last thing I want to hear from any cycling coverage are the words ‘On Twitter…’, most usually followed by a random punter wondering how Rider X from Sky is going to do.

Looking over my shoulder April 12, 2016 at 1:34 pm

No P&P on ITV this year. I understand non Uk broadcasters are still using them.

Elle April 12, 2016 at 2:18 pm

Fantastic news for us in the UK! Ned Boulting & Dave Millar were a revelation last year at the Tour de Yorks & subsequent events. I hope we get much more of them. But my summer work-at-home schedule will be even more doomed than usual…

BenW April 12, 2016 at 5:45 pm

NO EFFING WAY! Best news we’ve had in ages.

hoh April 12, 2016 at 6:33 pm

Considering Eurosport actually has more commercial breaks than ITV, what a treat.

Ecky Thump April 12, 2016 at 11:36 am

As I see it, the ability of cycling fans the world over to watch tv / derived tv coverage largely hinges on the continued cycling passion of the Belgians, French, Italians and Spanish. Watching some of the races from these countries recently (the Basque fans!), that passion and enthusiasm is like a live cable, that the rest of us are plugged into.

The evils of pay-per-view tv (and this extends to our NHS Hospital wards very sadly Inner Ring – you may be dying, but if you haven’t got a debit / credit card you cannot watch Coronation Street to accompany you on your way to the after-life) have created the haves and have-nots for watching sport, for goodness sake. But long live the Internet I say, though I noticed that Sky have been hard at work installing their ‘Sky Bet’ pop-up adverts on the pirate streams now.

Anyway, in the long-run, my trust lies in Sporza and the Belgians. Excellent coverage and production of their own making. May the sun never set on their presence.
Now, where is my Dutch phrase book again?

Anonymous April 12, 2016 at 3:36 pm

This is a very important thought to always keep in mind: Without France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands (hope I forgot none) cycling would neither exist in the past, nor in the future. Without them the rest would break down as an international contest in the blink of an eye. And despite all the globalisation, I don’t see this ever changing, cause cycling is just not established enough, just not part of the national identity, of everyday life, as it is there. Exception: South America, but they can’t carry it in their own country, so no way to carry it outside of their country. Therefore those countries need our support and most of all our RESPECT when cycling is concerned. They are the roots and the lifelines of cycling.

Ecky Thump April 12, 2016 at 6:48 pm

Sorry I missed The Netherlands. But yes, definitely them also.

Ferdi April 12, 2016 at 8:27 pm

I fully agree, but you forgot Switzerland, even though you don’t see the crowds you see elsewhere (at least not always), the long-standing support of a core country is still there.

Nick April 13, 2016 at 11:33 pm

Luxembourg may not add too many viewers to the total, but it probably belongs on that list too.

Tori April 12, 2016 at 11:48 am

Maybe the “Slow TV” is catching on.

Here in Norway we have done 134 hour live coverage from one of Hurtigruta sailings along the Norwegian coast. Made like a documentary with interviews of crew, passengers, people from the different towns it visited etc.

So maybe this can be done in a similar manner with “behind the scenes” from the peloton as mentioned above (OGE Backstage?), and maybe small minidocumentarys from the different places they pass (examples; wineries, cheese factories, bike factories, monasteries and other historical places) So you get even more than a helicoper overfly with a nametag rolling over the screen while they roll by.

Marcel April 12, 2016 at 12:22 pm

I’d like to see more footage about the bikes and the backstage activities.
(It’s often like watching Formula 1 and you get to see only the helmet.)

In conjunction with onboard cameras there’s a lot of interesting stuff to show.
I would also appreciate the possibility to switch cameras myself (RAI has done that if I remember correctly).

Then, as much as I hate crashes and road stretches where “you know” it’s going to be gore, I think broadcasters should even the difficult areas live. They often show these areas only from far (helicopter) .

hahostolze April 12, 2016 at 12:25 pm

I love it, personally, but that’s because I also love the commentary, especially when it’s TdF, whether it is on Sporza or the NOS, the French countryside and traditions are shared in a very interesting way. Not always exciting but good, ‘slow tv’, as Tori above says.

RonDe April 12, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Kommissar Rex sounds like a good show. I’d watch that. Failing that I’m happy to watch all 21 stages of the Tour start to finish. An attractive part of cycling for me and, I think, others is the story of the race and how it unfolds. Butting in for the last 100kms every day is all well and good but the stages that have been shown from end to end have always been the ones I enjoy the most.

ZigaK April 12, 2016 at 6:38 pm

You should also check out the spin off Stockinger. He is the one that gets his sandwich eaten by Rex in every episode.

Pierre-Jean April 12, 2016 at 12:29 pm

It worked for Paris-Roubaix, because there were six hours of non-stop drama. In the Tour de France, unless some dramatic changes are introduced to keep combativity and disorder so intense for so long, which is very difficult these days even on mountain stages, there will be a lot of nothingness going on. Which I don’t mind. If it’s on, when I’m home, or at the café having my apéro, it’s ok, I can look or not look, it’s my choice. But I hope that nothingness, which is boring for the viewer, but fundamental to the nature of the sport, and to what happens later, doesn’t get questioned because of being broadcast, and that some crazy people continue to ask for less kilometers “because nothing happens”.
If they showed Milan – San Remo in its entirety, I can imagine those people asking for the first “boring” 100km (or 200km, why not) to be eliminated.
France Télévisions should perhaps address DS themselves, and tell them: “if you control and block the race and continue to make it as predictable as an administrative procedure, people will prefer to watch “Rex, chien flic”, even if they’ve seen the episode 3 times already, because it will still be more thrilling than the peloton knowing exactly when it will catch the échappés, or TT performances being so perfectly linear, and we will have to make sure that ASO doesn’t invite you again”.

Augie March April 12, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Agree with this, this year’s Paris Roubaix was great for the drama, but not every race can be of this standard. I noticed especially in last year’s Vuelta that all the action on every stage, flat or mountainous was pretty much restricted to the last 10 km: either a sprint finish or final climb. I mostly only tuned in for these last few km except on the penultimate day, and didn’t feel like I missed any key moments. It’s all very well to broadcast more of the race, but it needs to actually be a race, and as we know winning a grand tour is often more about not losing time than it is about bold attacks that make for great TV.

Anonymous April 12, 2016 at 2:57 pm

That was a hideous route in terms of full stage action. Hopefully the search to spice up full stages leads to less of the _________/ stages than we’ve seen recently.

Augie March April 12, 2016 at 3:32 pm

True, but you can go the other way as well. Too many stages like that brutal Andorran one in the 2015 Vuelta that was supposed to be the “most epic ever” results in little real racing and just survival as shattered riders limp into the finish: no one can attack when everyone is exhausted.

Anonymous April 13, 2016 at 8:38 am

That’s definitely possible as well, personally my favourite stages go something like ___/\___/\_____/\/ so we’ll see…

J Evans April 16, 2016 at 9:17 am

____/\___/\_/\/\

Richard S April 12, 2016 at 12:34 pm

When you think about it covering 4 to 5 hours of live cycling everyday isn’t that strange. Test cricket in England is shown live every day for 5 days straight from about an hour before play starts to an hour afterwards, from 10am to 7pm. Then they have a two or three day break and then start again. When you consider the major classics are seperated by a week or a few days that looks even less strange. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened earlier. Granted, a couple of hours of watching 4 or 5 Frenchman you’ve never heard of, and Tomas Voeckler/Thomas De Gednt, zipping across a flat part of France while Vasil Kiriyenka emotionlessly pulls everyone along 5 minutes behind isn’t exactly gripping, but its better than the alternative.

Elliot April 12, 2016 at 12:46 pm

The narrative thread is very different, though. A bike race builds to a crescendo (hopefully!) While a game of cricket can have dramatic action at any point in the day (or indeed, none at all).

Elliott April 12, 2016 at 3:44 pm

And at least with cycling, unlike cricket, you don’t watch for five days (with 20-30% chance of rain) and a 30% chance of a draw after the 5 days!

noel April 12, 2016 at 12:57 pm

if eurosport can broadcast untold hours of biathlon, ski jumping, archery… I mean ski jumping! they just do the same thing time and again. I guess it’s a nordic thing and they get a huge audience….

anyway, I loved the coverage on Sunday, but agree that it’s horses for courses (ie P-R yes, LBL no etc).

noel April 12, 2016 at 1:04 pm

any Nordics out there – I appreciate you probably find cricket quite boring too…

ZigaK April 12, 2016 at 8:20 pm

Not nordic but still big fan of ski jumping. Watch this and tell me it’s not enthralling:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36H99lqqDzg

To be honest I don’t find cricket boring because I don’t know enough about it to be bored. I’m sure if did I would be.

Tintinbike April 12, 2016 at 1:03 pm

Sadly I don’t have time to watch all live coverage However if the extended full coverage could deliver the material for more complete highlights package that would be great.

That would also bring in the casual viewer who wants to see the action from the day, not just the last 30 mins, 60 mins or even 120 mins of the excitement happened before then.

In UK we have a successful football/soccer highlights show on free TV that needs the whole 90 minute match covered to boil it down to the essence in say 10 mins or less.

Of course the trouble is this requires someone to watch the race and make the edits so probably no longer cheap TV.

Not the point of INRNG’s article but I think high quality highlights are a way to sell cycling better than extended live coverage.

But let’s take whatever we can get!

charlie b April 13, 2016 at 5:32 am

That’s a great point. The presentation & attention given to a “proper” cycling highlights package can be beneficial in a few ways. Many avid fans are unable to watch a live broadcast because of work or other commitments especially during stage racing that’s on Mon. to Fri. An hourly package that includes the making of the day’s breakaway plus the significant moments before the finale would not only cater to these (important) hardcore followers but might be a better way to “educate” non-committal viewers to appreciate the nuances & logic of road racing. Also being a highlights package allows the benefit of hindsight so any so-called narrative can be given greater clarity.
While talking about TV presentation I wonder if its possible for camera-bike video footage to be saved or backed up by the individual camera operators? So when satellite links breakdown as in last year’s San Sebastien or when weather conditions block relaying (2013 Giro fogged out stage) video can be retrieved so we can watch the race even if it’s after the fact.
Of course these options are no substitute for watching live racing.

Elliot April 13, 2016 at 10:01 am

I fully agree. 60 mins of well-edited highlights with insightful analysis on the evening of a race (be it 1 day classic or stage of a GT) would be my preferred way to watch. My employers and family make watching the whole thing impossible, so that just isn’t an option.

In an ideal world those highlights/analysis would start from kilometer 0, showing how the break formed and which teams were being the gatekeepers by pulling back undesirable moves.

gabriele April 12, 2016 at 1:05 pm

What’s really peculiar is that the starting hour or so is typically one of the most entertaining part of the races, including GT stages (even more so when we’re speaking of a later phase of a GT when long range attacks and the corresponding tactics start to make sense).
For example, a lot of the last Giro was decided by the impossibility for Astana to establish a proper support in the break during the second half of the whole race, which happened due to huge work by Tinkoff team. Compare that with the Vuelta 😉
However, more generally speaking the forming of the breakaway usually delievers a great show (people must be able to understand how that works, that’s for sure, or they won’t enjoy that as much – but it can be learnt easily). Not always, that’s sure, but neither uphill finishes always deliever, do they?

And… +1 to what Pierre-Jean says above, a part of the race is needed to create the appropriate conditions for the finale, despite being “boring” (and it’s a “zone of possibility” for other phenomena like crosswind, splits, forced team pressure, long range attacks and so on).

Ken April 12, 2016 at 3:48 pm

Excellent point! If the first 100km were unimportant, stages would have been shortened long ago. The beginning of a stage is where a strategy shapes up, where a team is important. It’s where you see who has the legs that day and who hasn’t. Appreciating these fine points takes a deeper understanding of the sport, so it’s understandable why the audience for the early parts of a stage may be small.

Nick April 12, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Agreed. If a 90min-2hr show is the longest that one can normally hope for, it makes sense to me for it to be made up of 15 mins intro/wrap-up/magazine bits, 45 mins or so of highlights from the opening hour, then the last hour live. But I’ve never made a TV show about a bike race, so I’m probably missing something.

ZigaK April 12, 2016 at 8:25 pm

One of the reasons to get in the breakaway is the team competition, and it is often forgotten even by the commentators (at least on ES).

gabriele April 13, 2016 at 1:05 am

Ah ah ah ah, that’s true!
I must say that in Italy and in Spain it’s often named, maybe too often: the commentators tend to use it to justify any sort of *apparently crazy* behaviour which is probably better explained with sport politics… or sheer money.
Besides, in Spain the commentators often look *really* interested… mainly because Movistar appears to be fighting for that objective over anything else 😛

Steppings April 12, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Sundays coverage was absolutely fantastic and an eye opener to see the first 100km, which I have never seen before and I have watched perhaps the last 24 or so editions of PR. Great to see how the race developed from KM 1. It has been done before on certain Tour stages in previous years. I would dearly love to watch each stage of this years Tour from start to finish but I have to go to work and missing so much coverage will drive me insane with frustration.

jollygoodvelo April 12, 2016 at 1:20 pm

And just as I was considering cancelling my Eurosport subscription…

I’ve often wondered why the current ‘afternoon’ coverage doesn’t show – apart, usually, from a perfunctory few shots of the depart fictif, the first hour of the race. Why not show the breaks trying to get away, the politics and tension of who will be allowed to go; then let the cameramen have a break for a couple of hours and then pick it up a little later?

R April 12, 2016 at 1:58 pm

I think it’s great – rather than having bloomberg or CNBC in the office all day we’ll be able to have le tour!

ocaz April 12, 2016 at 2:15 pm

I watched P-R from start to finish and was gripped because of all the mini-stories as the race progressed. I think it worked really well because it is a 1 day race and because of the type of race it is with each move shaping the outcome.

Personally full coverage of stages of the Tour de France could work really well if used sparingly for what would be deemed as important stages because if it was each day I can imagine it could be pretty dull if for example stages the day before was a very tough stage where basically the peloton decides to take it easy, it could be pretty dull watching them cruise along chatting as they recover from the previous days exploits. That said if I was at home I can imagine I would still have it on as ‘background noise’ as you alluded to, dipping in and out of it as I do other stuff then giving it my full attention at key points or when something grabs my attention.

To avoid dullness as of just watching the peloton doing nothing and relying on the commentators to keep things interesting with anecdotes and general chat I think broadcasters could improve live coverage of full stages like others have said with more interviews, behind the scenes coverage, interesting tid-bits, mini documentaries, or short overviews of the various intricacies of pro cycling that they can inter splice with and compliment the live coverage just to break it up a bit. Then in the event something significant develops they can always cut back to the live action and bring viewers up to speed or even having live action still visible in bottom corner of the screen like they do in other sporting coverage when they show replays etc.

Patrick April 12, 2016 at 2:29 pm

One of my first thoughts when this was announced was that we would be able to get to see some of the best chrono men live for a change, as they are often so far down on GC by the time a Tour TT comes around, how great this would have been in years gone by when Spartacus was in his pomp?

Larry T. April 12, 2016 at 2:38 pm

Interesting ideas. Can’t help but think back to when the Giro, Tour, etc. stages weren’t so scheduled to finish at someone’s determined “prime” viewing time, but just ran during the day with housewives having the TV going all afternoon. Consumer products like Nivea decided to get in on the advertising opportunity. Who’s at home watching these days? What could be sold to them? I don’t think it’s bicycles and equipment so would the team sponsors change (back) to kitchen cabinet makers and ice cream in Italy? Peugeot. Renault or Ford cars in France? Or would it just be adult-diapers and laxatives?

cherrypicked April 13, 2016 at 2:05 am

True Larry. I would have thought that Australia would be an interesting market given the interest, time zone and affluence. I know it is relatively small. Could be interesting if a TV audience could be developed in the right time zone – China?

Panda April 13, 2016 at 9:46 am

Lots of interest in Oz especially since Cadel, but the time zone in the eastern states is the killer. GT stages rarely finish before 1 am. TV coverage usually begins at 10 pm. SBS has done a wonderful job for many years, but it’s still a niche broadcaster, its TV ratings almost always have it a distant #5 of the 5 free to air networks and similarly many of its advertisers are niche players rather than the big companies.

embryo April 12, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Thought Sundays broadcast was fantastic, so exciting from the off. the guys at Eurosport deserve a medal, as they talk all the way through but almost never repeat themselves.
I think cycling coverage can still develop further, look at F1. with politics issues and technology battles being dropped in during the quieter moments.
Paris Roubaix was a true classic race, so was bound to be riveting. if more GT stages were designed like this it would be a 3 week treat. I know there has been a call for shorter stages, so the racing goes from the gun, maybe then 3 hours live would be a full time offering.

Polkadots April 12, 2016 at 3:18 pm

In the Netherlands we are quite spoiled as we can watch Dutch television (NOS), Flemish (Sporza) and Eurosport for cycling. Sporza cover most of the races and if they don’t Eurosport have races like Ruta del Sol or Cataluyna. If Sporza will do the full stage coverage on grand tours (without commercial breaks) it will be a hell of a job for the commentators.

AK April 12, 2016 at 11:53 pm

Michiel and Jose seem to have no problem going on for hours with a very low rate of jibberish so I think they will be fine. If not, covering the first hours would be a good way to test and train some additional commentators.

Peter April 12, 2016 at 3:30 pm

A thoughtful post, thank you.

And I am comparing that to the morning (in Calif) headlines about cycling. The headlines are about discs cutting open riders’ legs – presented as fact without real evidence – and yet more rumors about where Sagan will wind up. There is nothing wrong with all of this, they are both interesting stories when real data gets developed. However, what happens when the all day TV coverage is on tedium? Will TV networks start looking for something that will grab attention? Will we see more footage of crashes, more sensationalism, more drama for the sake of drama?

I am thinking that we will. It will help pay for the cost of producing a full day of video. It will help draw eyes. It will be more tabloid and less Inner Ring.

Sigh, I vote for more Inner Ring. And I’ll probably buy more Inner Ring kit from Prendas so that I can show my own bias. Hmmmm, maybe I’ll get on TV?

nevman April 12, 2016 at 4:14 pm

I’ve seen Kommissar Rex on French TV and he really does solve crimes and appears to be in charge of the station.Quite a feat.I would watch live coverage from the start to see the breaks form as I’m sick of being told its the best racing of the day.

Beth April 12, 2016 at 4:43 pm

Perhaps Kommissar Rex and Commissaire Cancellara can team up to form a cycling themed crime-fighting duo? Might fill a bit of viewing time on a sleepy Vuelta stage.

Even if that doesn’t happen, I’d love the opportunity to be able to watch more races in full.

Vitus April 12, 2016 at 4:54 pm

The ARD hardly would show the whole TdF stages. They already have shorter coverage than Eurosport.
And they can’t afford to reduce their normal afternoon program of soap operas and zoo reality shows, which have 10 times higher ratings than their totally uninspired cycling coverage.

ZigaK April 12, 2016 at 8:32 pm

I remember in the Ullrich days ARD/ZDF had the best pre race coverage of tdf. I’m not fluent in German but I watched every day.

Vitus April 14, 2016 at 5:38 pm

Indeed, but those days are gone. They sacked all staff from these days for being to tied with Telekom. Mowadays they have only one commentator, which is a former handballer with not much clue about cycling.

Madblack April 12, 2016 at 5:01 pm

Anyone witnessed the live coverage of a five day cricket test match??? You get that an awful lot in Australia. Watching grass grow is more exciting! So give me 6 hours cycling coverage any day. At least there’s certainty the action will happen eventually.

channel_zero April 12, 2016 at 5:25 pm

What was the viewing schedule like for the TdF inside France? Many years ago, the broadcast I saw of the TdF was basically a very long, pre-packaged tourism/sponsors broadcast that cut to the live racing in the last hour.

channel_zero April 12, 2016 at 5:28 pm

I wasn’t clear. What is the current broadcast content like recently? How much of it was live racing and how much was pre-packaged broadcast material?

My point was, long ago, there wasn’t that much racing despite an hours-long block on the tv schedule.

The Inner Ring April 12, 2016 at 7:09 pm

It’s almost all live, I’ve never seen much pre-packaged content except for startline interviews during the dull parts of the race.

Ecky Thump April 12, 2016 at 7:44 pm

How good is fast internet or 3 / 4G wi-fi connections around France, Inner Ring?
I can imagine maybe poor in rural areas, so TV is still King?

The Inner Ring April 12, 2016 at 9:19 pm

It’s not good, the same for Italy so where the Tour and Giro go, ie across the countryside, there are lots of non-3G areas.

Larry T. April 13, 2016 at 1:59 pm

I’m currently living in Siracusa in Sicily (and a card-carrying member of the Paolo Tiralongo fans club :-)) and we enjoy a very good internet connection here – enough to enjoy streaming Eurosport coverage (via the smart TV in our apartment) of races that RAI TV doesn’t show.

Falze April 12, 2016 at 7:25 pm

Just as a recommendation, I’m a big fan of Murdoch Mysteries. It’s well worth a watch “me old bugalugs”

CA April 12, 2016 at 7:46 pm

Excellent, I love where this is going – now I need to find one of those jobs that’ll let me watch this thing during the day!

Megi April 12, 2016 at 9:42 pm

Complete stage live coverage may be a pull for cafes, bars etc, to bring in customers to watch the race while they have their drinks/meals etc. It may also be popular with mobile phone TVs if they have sufficient signal – during the London 2012 road race, several of the roadside spectators were listening to the radio commentary as they waited for their split second view of the cyclists racing past.

weeclarky April 12, 2016 at 10:24 pm

as someone who can have this on at work all day, i think it’s fantastic. i think for the commentary we actually need to learn from the cricket on radio 4 in the uk (TMS) – people adore it. rather than commentary like we have at the moment, its just a bunch of guys having a chin-wag with the sport going on in the background, and they get rotated around in short timescales (my partner loves it, and it’s easy for a non-cricket fan to zone in and out of). It’s perfect for a 6 hour stage of the tdf where you need ‘commentary’ for about 1/4 of the race, and interesting chit-chat for the rest.

for the filming costs – lets get ready for drones people! – in 10 years the idea of motorbikes speeding around trying to capture what is going on is going to seem totally ridiculous…

Elliot April 13, 2016 at 10:14 am

+1 And I hadn’t thought about the rotation thing. I love TMS and part of it is the staggered rotation of commentator and summariser. So if it is someone you don’t really like, they’ll be off in 20mins, and you get every combination of people throughout the day (which is nice as the dynamics change depending of who is with who).

Practically, though, I don’t know if it would work, as many of the TMS people are working different jobs in rotation: eg they’ll do 20mins on Radio 4, then a stint on a TV channel, or they’re also newspaper journalists so probably spend the off-time working on that day’s article. Not sure if that would be so easy for cycling.

Adam Bowie April 13, 2016 at 3:52 pm

I think the TMS rotation thing works really well. Yes, some of the people are doing other gigs, but it’s just a question of them being organised in advance.

FYI – here’s an example of the commentators’ sheet a head of a day’s cricket. There are always two people on-air rotating: https://twitter.com/tmsproducer/status/682107235770695680?lang=en-gb

Drones could be a massive improvement in lots of ways. I can’t see motorbikes being removed completely, but if they can get longer than 20-25 mins flying time, then with improvements in automonous flying modes, I can see a series of drones flying between strategically places France Television vans along the route, and fewer motorbikes on the route.

The Arenberg Forest would have been perfect for drones on Sunday – perhaps removing motorbikes for that stretch including the one that hit Viviani.

Dave April 15, 2016 at 6:33 am

The problem with drones is that they are poor camera platforms. Unless a sport is still stuck at the stage cricket was in the pre-Packer years (cycling is only 15-20 years behind the standard, not 40) then you don’t gain anything by adding quantity without quality.

In Australia, drones were used at Twenty20 Cricket broadcasts for a couple of years, then dropped in favour of Spidercam. The extra quality from having a stable camera platform justifies the extra expense and setup work of running the cables between the light towers.

I agree that having no camera motos on the hardest cobbled sectors like Arenberg, Orchies and Carrefour (the two sets of moto crews could use that to facilitate their relays) would be a step forward for safety, but only if there was a replacement available. Aerial shots won’t cut it, but perhaps having an increased number of moto crews on hand so they can get there in advance and park on each corner would help for Orchies and Carrefour.

Arenberg would be perfect for cameras suspended from cables between cranes, and a couple of fixed camera positions. They provide a much more stable platform for a higher-quality camera than a rotary-wing drone can, and without the endurance limitations.

Come to think of it, cycling really also should be using cable cameras for races like Flèche Wallone where there will be five passes up the Mur de Huy once you include the women’s version.

The Inner Ring April 15, 2016 at 9:41 am

France Televisions has experiment with a drone for the Champs Elysées stage already but it’s hard to use out on the open roads, overhead cables, woodland etc. You also need a big aircraft to lift an HD camera and all that comes with it.

Andrew April 12, 2016 at 11:34 pm

Over on this side of the pond Comcast used to provide Universal Sports as part of its package, but no more.

That said, NBCSN did a nice job of providing three (3) straight hours of PR coverage and also had the start live for those who wanted to get up early. Yes, would be nice to have Eurosport but beggars cannot be choosers.

anywhome April 13, 2016 at 8:40 pm

nbc sports network (nbcsn) streamed the entire race live.

if nbcsn has rights to a race, it is streamed on Live Extra!, with a (usually) shortened delayed broadcast late night/early morning. the only races nbcsn broadcasts live are california, tdf, and us pro challenge.

AK April 13, 2016 at 12:04 am

Interesting take on the live sports vs recorded shows. I actually record most of the big races and watch them after the kids have gone to sleep. My days are filled with work and family, and if there are a few hours I can fill in for myself I go out to ride instead of watching TV. So I record and watch later in the evening. No need to skip commercial breaks on Sporza. I do need to shut myself off from some parts off the internet during the day to prevent spoilers.
Sometimes I can watch the final 30-60 minutes of a race live but I never have time to watch the full coverage now, let alone if it should extend to the full race.

Alan April 13, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Thats generally what I do too – for Sunday I set my recording to start at 12:30 (UK time), guessing that would be close to the start of the cobbles, and went out on my bike for 3 hours or so. Came home, avoiding all social media, and watched the race “as if live”.
With strategic use of the 2x Fast Forward (still remarkably watchable), I was able to watch effectively 4 hours of “live” coverage in about 2 1/2 hours, without feeling I’d missed anything significant.
Added bonus is 32x speed whizz past the advert breaks !!
This is generally how I handle the key (ie Mountain) stages of the Grand Tours, and Eurosport or ITV evening shows for the less “key” stages.
Another bonus of this approach is at 2x speed, no commentary if Eurosport are using that idiot Carlton Kirby.

Malcolm April 13, 2016 at 3:00 pm

I quite like the idea of watching 2x speed (or maybe even 4x with practice), get to watch much more of the race, and rewind the most interesting bits.

Or go for a full 8x Keystone Cyclists effect.

MultiplexRant April 13, 2016 at 9:54 pm

Especially on mountain stages , I think of x2 as ‘EPO mode’…

Elliot April 14, 2016 at 9:40 am

Maybe we should watch 1994 Fleche Wallonne at 0.5x?

MP April 13, 2016 at 12:12 am

I get this is off topic, but Murdoch Mysteries is actually really entertaining. And I’m not in a hospital and my limbs work great, thank you.

Erik April 13, 2016 at 12:14 am

I calendar Roubaix as a personal holiday. My family knows that daddy is a little crazy for one bike race per year. Less crazy for others. So I was up at 4am Ohio, USA time lining up internet feeds and brushing up on my horrible French and non-existent Flemish. Actually the ended up watching most of the race in Dutch.

For the die-hard, sponsors get loyalty. I will likely keep my T-Mobile service forever. That goes back to a certain team that wore pink.

As a former TV guy, it is hard to get loyalty through ads. All kinds of games are played. But sports is where it is at. That race has a truly international audience. But only time will tell if it is financially worth it. I hope it proves out. Here in the US, we are willing to shell out thousands for our rides, and cycling is growing, yet sponsorship remains so difficult. It is a riddle that MUST be solved for the viability of the sport.

And by the way, I enjoy Murdoch Mysteries. And I don’t live in a nursing home. But yeah, that is not really engaging Sunday television.

channel_zero April 13, 2016 at 6:09 am

Here in the US, we are willing to shell out thousands for our rides, and cycling is growing, yet sponsorship remains so difficult.

It’s because the former is not constrained by the UCI or USA Cycling, and the latter is constrained by the UCI and USA Cycling and all of their corruption, management issues and transparency issues.

Larry T. April 13, 2016 at 8:21 am

Based on stats from places like Bicycle Retailer I don’t think cycling is growing in the USA. Bike shops are closing, sales are down and the existing market is getting older and grayer..or in my case, balder! As to bike race sponsorship, it’s never had much of a long-term existence. The longest running race promoted by the same people year after year was a blip on the radar compared to racing in “proper cycling countries”.

Erik April 13, 2016 at 4:45 pm

I may be speaking anecdotally, and I don’t follow the retail cycling trades, but I see growth. For example: bike shares in more cities; more commuting (my wife used to be the only commuter leaving from our neighborhood from downtown on two wheels – now there are dozens); more smaller niche shop (at least in my city). It is a business beyond racing. I wish I knew the solution.

AK April 13, 2016 at 6:22 pm

The popularity of cycling as a means of transport is not necessarily related to the popularity of bike racing as a spectator sport. People don’t watch F1 racing because they drive their car to work. Here in NL, many people ride bikes to work, any many people watch bike racing but the overlap between the two groups is far from 100%. How many NFL fans play football themselves?

JessMc April 13, 2016 at 12:36 am

Kommissar Rex is the best! In particular the Brandtner episodes. SBS has been showing repeats in prime time for 15 years. McEwen and Keenan were great on comms, hopefully we get them for all the Grand Tours this year in Australia, not just the Giro.

Othersteve April 13, 2016 at 1:31 am

We here in the new world, cry alligator tears for you in Europe and the surrounding full cycle racing coverage countries. Just give us a pay view cycling channel and we will forgive your winning about commentators or commercial. Enough said, back to my Rintintin reruns here in Cali…

Thanks Inrng always have our back.

Swuzz April 13, 2016 at 2:19 am

Interesting to see how this would work for Australia (SBS).
Due to the time difference, many people do actually record stages and watch the next morning or evening and so are likely skip forward ads etc.
A key difference for an extended coverage would be that it then comes on air earlier in the evening so some people may start watching and ‘settle in’ (or fall asleep) and stay with it longer.

Dave April 13, 2016 at 4:54 am

I expect that SBS would show the early part of the world feed on their website and app, then have the full stage intro and a quick wrap of what has happened so far when it starts on TV.

The bigger question is what will happen with the commentary. Keeno and Robbie showed on Sunday that they are finally up to the task of doing the big events relatively impartially (Keeno has been a bit of a cheerleader in the past). If this resulted in them going to those two for the TdF call instead of Phil & Paul (perhaps with David McKenzie swapping with McEwen for mountain stages) it would mean that somebody else would need to do the early part of the stage, and that ASO would also need someone to do the early part for the World Feed while Phil & Paul are exclusive to NBC.

Perhaps something along the lines of:
early stage online + post-stage analysis: Macca (flat stages) or Robbie (mountain stages).
studio hosts: Tomo and Henk.
rest of stage on TV: Keeno and either Robbie (flat stages) or Macca (mountain stages).
post-stage studio: all of the above.

Swuzz April 14, 2016 at 1:30 am
Beat Hotel April 13, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Possible that ASO uses the Tour Start in Duesseldorf to force german ARD to a full coverage. 2015 they had an average for something like 70 minutes per stage. Much less than what Eurosport 1 covered. So Duesseldorf gets a reduced priced for the prologue 2017 and the ASO gets merit from longer TV broadcasts. Could be a scenario

The Inner Ring April 13, 2016 at 12:53 pm

Possible but it doesn’t work like that, the race deals with the town who pays for the hosting start and cannot demand a TV channel shows more or less of the race.

Nick April 13, 2016 at 1:54 pm

Apparently the other way round: if ARD drops its coverage again, Duesseldorf gets to pull out of the Grand Depart.

Red Tornado April 13, 2016 at 5:15 pm

Speaking of ads during the race/event. Watched NBC Sports Network’s (NBCSN) coverage of P-R (tape-delayed in the U.S.) and saw the same 6 or 7 commercials repeated over the course of the 3 hour program. Can you say “ad nauseum”? This is why I TiVo stuff like this most of the time. Too much of the same stuff over and over and over……

Larry T. April 13, 2016 at 6:14 pm

Same with sponsoring a pro team – who wants their company/products associated with a sport with regular doping scandals? How many of those 6-7 TV spots were bike-related?

knightof1 April 15, 2016 at 4:47 am

The longer motorbikes stay with the peloton, the more dangerous the riders will be. Everyone is human being – media staff gets tired and makes mistakes on board.

Dave April 15, 2016 at 5:04 am

That’s why the first set of TV motos only covered half the race on Sunday, before being replaced by another set for the rest of it. Most of the expense associated with increasing the length of a broadcast is in labour, almost everything else is a fixed cost.

The French probably do this as well, but in Australia even the police escorts get rotated on and off throughout the day on each TDU stage so the duty doesn’t become monotonous.

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