Why isn’t the Tour of Oman on TV?

As the triptych of races in the Arabian Peninsula comes to an end Stage 5 of the Tour of Oman on Saturday and its summit finish on the Jebel Akhdar promises one of the best contests so far this season. Only the week’s racing isn’t live on TV to the frustration of many. Can we expect to watch every race for free?

Cost vs benefit
It costs a lot to broadcast a race live. Oman doesn’t have the prodigious oil and gas reserved of Dubai and Qatar. It has some but less. You can measure this in barrels and dollars or see for yourself, the capital city of Muscat doesn’t have the skyscrapers of Doha and Dubai. But it’s more complicated than cash. The Omani race is run by Belgium company Paumer who buy in Tour de France company ASO to provide the logistics and filming. With this comes a sort of fixed price menu with a substantial price for the live TV.

Broadcast rights and wrongs
Go beyond Oman and it’s normal to talk about the manna of TV rights money. Only in pro cycling the sums today are modest.

A few races can auction off their TV rights to the highest bidder, extracting a premium rent. But unknown to many, a lot of races actually pay for their event to be on TV. In cash terms these rights are negative, a liability.

Why pay?
If nobody is willing to buy the rights then there’s still business to be done. Having TV is a big draw. It means you can charge more to the event sponsors, whether it’s the local region or the names printed on the jerseys, hoardings and other visible branding. It brings the big teams who welcome the publicity.

The Cost
I’ve seen figures from €30,000-€50,000 per day. You need several motos each with a skilled driver and an experienced camera operator. Then you need a helicopter, pilot and a camera operator and both need to be highly skilled. The pilot has to operate a lot at margin of the helicopter’s performance, known as the H-V curve and the camera is unique. These speciality skills don’t come cheap. On top of this there’s a production crew sitting in a car plus a commentator. All this before you book the considerable satellite bandwidth for live communications and possibly an aeroplane to act as a relay link receiving the helicopter and moto signals and beaming them on.

Watch the action, count the costs

The revolutions will be televized
Dedicated sports channels have added more events and digital broadcasting means more channels, whether via cable, satellite or the web. With this technology has come a sense of expectation and entitlement: if it’s not on TV then it must be on the web, even if means a pirate stream. This can be illegal which only shows the cultural expectation where many feel entitled to watch every race going but without paying for it.

Music has seen filesharing undermine its business model. But if copying an MP3 file is one thing, expecting to watch a high cost sports event for free is similar to watching a live stadium gig for free. Every weekend.

Perhaps the future is to pay. If the Tour of Oman feels a highlights package is plenty to showcase the sport and scenery, what if it could be persuaded by additional revenue from broadcasting rights? It’s far easier said than done but imagine some version of Netflix or iTunes for cycling where people pay $10 for a race like the Tour of Oman. Six stages at €30,000 = €180,000 or $250,000 in costs for the race means you’d need to find 25,000 buyers. Is that possible? Others will have better views but this blog can get as many readers in a day. And all this is before we explore the platform, the quality of the image and more. Easier said than done.

There’s an expectation that every big race should be on TV… And free too. It’s frustrating not to see the high quality contest in the Tour of Oman just as it was a pity there was no video from last weekend’s Le Tour Méditerranéen with its stunning finish on Mont Faron. But this costs a fortune.

Meanwhile we are all watching pirate streams, wanting to watch the race but rarely opening our wallets to pay for it. There might be substantial demand for online streaming of races especially as many would say they watch the pirate feeds because there’s no other way to see a race in their country.

For now even billionaire team owners and sections of the media who follow the sport professionally resort to pirate streams and play the Java-scripted wack-a-mole game of closing pop-ups like everyone else.

54 thoughts on “Why isn’t the Tour of Oman on TV?”

  1. Inrng TV…?

    And thats not suggested in a facetious manner… this (yours) is the go-to blog for Cycling, news and analysis; previews and reactions…

    One step further?

    I think a good many people would sign up – and happily pay – for that.

  2. With some UCI racing, Vier cyclocross, Giro, ToC etc being officially free on the web, it’s easy to feel entitled to watch the other races for free too.

    Isn’t cycling.tv the place for pay-for-view cycling on the web?

    • cycling.tv has some races but that’s the thing, each race or set of races (like ASO’s or RCS’s) negotiates their own broadcast deals. So you get one race on one channel and another elsewhere and more that aren’t shown at all.

    • I can usually find most major races on live internet feeds or through cycling.tv. Le Tour, Cali, Utah, and USPro are available via cable or satellite here in US. Since I don’t have cable/sat (choice) I watch via internet. eurosport or cycling.tv for live feeds. I was able to purchase live and on demand Le Tour coverage via nbcsports. Wasn’t able to do on demand RCS events because Universal Sports who owns US rights is tied to comcast. No cable, no internet feed.

      It’s a mixed bag, but far better than watching only Le Tour on a one hour edited feed. Only got to see about 30 mins of racing with the other 30 being commercials and background stories.

  3. Good analysis. Just one tiny point, the lack of skyscrapers in Muscat is not down to shortage of cash – it’s atually illegal to build then by order of the Sultan, who wants to preserve the city’s low-rise, Arabic character as much as possible…

  4. Alot of brits already pay per month for defacto cycling TV channel. Its called Eurosport.

    I only subscribe for the cycling and going by the advertisments its cycling coverage must be a fair wack of its subscribers. We just want more, if it exclusively broadcast cycling and didnt go late to races cause of over runs in the pervious sport id happily pay more.

    • For £3.99 per month Eurosport Player is good value, although most of the winter I don’t watch it. Just realised Oman and Andalucia are currently on. Hey, that must mean winter is over.

  5. Would viewers be payed whenever Kirby’s on?

    Caught the end of the Oman highlights today. Never knew Oman were the Ibiza of the Arab world. Kirby needs to work on his MCing. In truth his commentary style goes well with music because he sounds like someone having a conversation in a club.

    Apparently ASO have just secured Mogwai to live score stages in the Tour.

    Aslong as new viewers are attracted.

  6. UCI could step in and productize it themselves. Pop some cameras on team cars (a la Nascar?) and leverage the fact support vehicles are usually there with the leaders, break, peloton, etc. Monetize it like the major sports leagues do in the US, negotiate special contracts for big events like the Tours, and leverage the low cost/low quality UCI-created coverage as a way to monetize the small events.

    • If you just popped some cameras on team cars you’d have a very, very dull view of the race. Most people have little idea of how hard it is to produce quality TV, let alone a quality sports broadcast.

      • I enjoy the BMC videos from this race on YouTube. They’re short and capture the stuff behind the scenes well. Cyclingfans.com has all the videos listed.

  7. I take out a subscription to Eurosport when there are races on and let it lapse when there aren’t. Agree with Cynique above that Carlton Kirby is utterly awful to listen to, and he comes across as simply ignorant when he can’t be bothered to learn rider and place names and pronunciation. There’s a lot of room for others to cover the sport better.

    I can only imagine the teams convince the sponsors that all these ‘hidden’ races are necessary to make sure the riders are in good enough shape for the big exposure races.

  8. I was speaking with a friend, yesterday… we scarcely could remember where the last three or four European Football Championship were held. We went blank about the *host nation*, not to speak of single towns.
    And we followed on TV those events, we remember most of the matches!
    Brain damage, for sure, but… hey, we could remember most of the stage locations (regions, towns!) of the – many more – Giro d’Italia held in the same span of time. With impacting memories of environmental or architectural beauties.
    This was true for many other races – including Tour of Oman, notably – assuming that some cycling action or some astounding view had been provided.
    That sets a totally different balance of interests comparing cycling with other sports in terms of broadcasting rights… The least public you’ve got watching your “product”, the least you’re taking advantage of the specific benefit which televised cycling can grant.

    • I can’t elaborate much more on it, but think about the money local administration are ready to pay – or to collect & pay – just to host a Giro stage start/arrival (I refer to the Giro because I’ve got some hints about the exact amounts).
      The broadcast daily cost figured by inrng above is fully covered with a sixth/eighth part of the fee paid by cities to have the start and finish lines, every day.
      And it has been a great deal for so many towns or tourist resorts… a backward perspective can confirm that.
      It is true that many races in Italy are having problems related to this matter, but it’s happening mainly because of a national law preventing local administrations to spend significative cashflow in a single year, even if they have it available, in their bank accounts.
      The countercheck is that other countries are still ready to spend crazy money on the Giro first stages.
      Obviously, not every race is the Giro, that’s the problem.
      Nevertheless, cutting out watchers is not the right path to walk down, IMHO. On the contrary.

      Anyway, I can imagine different situations with different curves of direct income (pay TV) vs. indirect income, that’s fine; but, generally speaking, I think that the attention of a group of viewers is more valuable than the sum you’d be able to raise collecting individual charges (even if you add to that the residual value of the residual spectators).

  9. It costs money – something that SKY seem to have at their disposal – ohhh and they happen to have a Pay-Tv network.

    So, why don’t they just scoop up all these races that Eurosport fail to show [If I had a quid for everytime I heard “We are showing more cycling than ever” on Eurosport I’d be a rich man sponsoring INRNG to the hilt!].

    I once heard that you have to spend approx. £1 in promotion for every £1 spent in sponsorship – to tell the punters about it. Seems to me that Sky are missing a trick here…

    • Sky have a fair chunk of rights already but they don’t necessarily choose to use them. eg they have both Swiss WT races but only wish to show Romandie live.

  10. This in my humble opinion is why cycling needs a ‘Bernie Eccelstone’ to organise and structure the rights for all race’s on the calender (though with lower cost management fees like vanguard asset management (0.40% management fees) or IAM (of IAM cycling fame a slightly more eye watering 1.50% per annum)) for the benefit of cycling as a whole. Otherwise we end up with highly uneven wealth distribution amoungst the peloton and race organisers. I just dont see organisations like the aso as being entreperneural enough to produce revenue (viewership figures) for cycling and benefit it as a whole. They have been around to long and gotten to comfortable with the big money liscense fee’s they get paid. Yet they account for a very small percentage of the calender and is confusing to new viewers of the sport. Least we forget this is an endurance sport and its the overall winner of the uci rankings that should take preferance not individual races, or you remove finance away from other races and potentailly global growth away from the sport. Some people may not like Bernie Eccelstone but he has turned a wealthy mans sport (were people pay upwards of $10 15 million per year just to be on the grid in, ie pastor maldonado) into a vastly more profitable sport (with higher viewership) than a sport we can all take part in on a daily basis, cycling.

  11. Living in Frankfurt in the 1990s it was not that long ago you would get the newspaper to read who had won Paris Roubaix or the previous day Giro stage. At least then you paid for the paper which then paid for the newswire service. Sometimes you’d buy L’Equipe or Gazzetta for the full story or the pictures.

    Today we have everything so fast with the web. It’s great but content like like TV with helicopters and space satellite communication must be paid for. I think the small races will remain like the old days, we read only the result in text.

  12. A cable operator in the US ( if think that it was directTV satellite) had the rights in the US, for a race earlier this year. and the only way you could view it is if you were a subscriber, you could watch on line via a feed but if you had to have a customer # or ID.
    I live in the mountains were we have tall trees so satellite is not an option. I would have paid to view on line but the provider did not have that as an option.

    Bad planning by the provider. lost revenue

    • Lost revenue but did not necessarily lose money. The old adage that revenue is vanity and profit is sanity applies. The cost to set up additional services to non customers would have to be exceeded by additional revenue.

      You’re obviously a big cycling fan, coming to this site and commenting. But is the potential customer base big enough to justify all this additional media attention? At a global scale, perhaps. At national and regional level, almost certainly not.

  13. It’s an interesting problem and one that you just don’t get so much of in other sports because rights are usually held by one organisation.

    I can’t imagine a situation in football where clubs can individually sell rights and you need to subscribe to numerous different channels to see each weekend’s action.

    Would it be such a terrible situation if the UCI bought up all the rights and sold them to a major broadcaster (Sky/Eurosport) as a package?

    • sorry, but the Europa league has/had exactly this model. Each home team sold the rights themselves to broadcasters and only from the quarterfinals on it was centralised.

    • In Italian “Serie A” the clubs negotiate rights individually, and you have to subscribe to different platforms if you want to see them all. At least, that’s how it worked when I lived there.

    • The EU have recently told the premier league in England to split up the football rights into packages, hence why it’s now split between Sky and BT Sport. So although not “numerous channels”, I’d imagine the same situation would arrise if the UCI sold everything to one broadcaster (even if it could do so).

  14. I often wonder about what exactly are “broadcasting rights”. I am not sure but races seem to generally contract with broadcasting companies (FranceTV for the Tour and many french races for example) to provide the images, and negotiate on the side with tv channels to allow them to access them.
    So in the example of the tour, francetv sell the images to ASO, which then resell them to franceTV to allow them to broadcast to the public ?
    And a second point not clear to me, what is “the public” ? It seems some races can only be broadcasted by one channel in one country, some other time it seems that channels buy broadcasting rights for a specific number of countries ?

    My point is there seem to be many more intermediate layers between an organisator and our screen, and many levels at which it should be possible to gather content from different sources/races on one side and viewers on the other. But there probably is a reason why nobody is doing it…only I don’ t see it!

    • In reply France TV pays ASO for the right to film the race. And TV rights are usually country-by-country; one problem is when a channel buys the TV rights it usually includes the online rights too. So if Channel ABC or XYZ has the rights to put the race on satellite it usually means others, including the race itself or the UCI for example, can’t put the race online in the same area.

  15. I see it a little bit different though. Yes, it costs a lot to produce such a thing, but as gabriele mentioned, the organisers/producers get money from the hosting cities, the sponsors and from the broadcasting channels for the rights. The broadcasting channels get their money from advertisements. They want to be seen, they more people the broadcasting channels can claim are watching, the more the ads costs. There it doesn’t matter if that happens via TV or stream, there are legal offerings. And actually it won’t matter if it was a pirate stream, mission accomplished for all. I admit, it is something different if it is a pay-per-view channel that is streamed.

    But actually, I don’t need to see every race live. But a short recap, 15 to 45 min depending on how “important” or “spectacular” the race is , is totally fine, that would also reduce the cost quite a bit, I presume. Just having to film at a few key points no need for a helicopter. But now back to Oman, Eurosport shows a recap, but on the next day, seriously? That is a bit late in the age of internet. Why not on the same evening, hell, I bet there would be more viewers at 10 pm than at 10 am. Right now, there are three races parallel. Why create a 45 min (1 h with ads) show where each race is recapped in 15 min?

  16. I think PPV is not an answer.
    Remember the PPV model is based around live football coverage, sold primarily to clubs and pubs, with sales to home subscribers a secondary income.
    It costs a club or pub a few hundred pounds a month in subscription fees to show PPV sports channels, and PPV channels chase that income hard:
    (note there is no mention about any other sport show on the PPV channels except football)

    I believe that other sports are put on PPV channels to fill air time between football games.
    I don’t see a live bike race being shown on a Saturday or Sunday on a PPV channel when there is live football on all day.
    As such, cycling would be demoted to highlights packages on PPV channels thereby devaluing the brand for advertisers, in terms of team sponsors and race sponsors even further.

    This is where channels such as ES come into play, they don’t have the money to buy up football games so they show cycling, winter sports, tennis and so on.
    In essence ES show sports where we follow sports competitors (Cavendish, Williams, Ligety, and so on) rather than sports brands.
    PPV make their money from showing sports brands (Man U, Paris SGM, Barcelona etc.).

    I know we don’t like to compare, but I always feel that in some ways motor sports have the same type of fan base, as cycling. In general fans follow competitors rather than brands (yes I know about Ferrari), and as such PPV does not lend itself to motorsport.

    Of course it can be argued that F1 in the UK is now on PPV, this is true, but in order to make it work Sky have had to create a 24 hour F1 channel, and continue to share their live coverage with the BBC.
    Remember ‘F1 Digital+’ when F1 went completely PPV, it was a commercial failure.
    That said it what F1 Digital did was introduce a permanent TV production team at each race that gave continuity and quality of coverage that continues to today, and this is something cycling could learn from.

    To my mind our ProTour races should have the same production team on each race, same camera bikes chopper pilots along with continuity of on screen graphics and so on.
    So while we continue to sort out who owns the broadcast rights to races or series of races, at least having a continuity of coverage makes the image of the sport more professional, which in turn should attract more viewers/sponsors.

    If it does not already the UCI licence for each race must stipulate that as part of the licence the races must be made available to widest TV viewing audiences as possible both live and recorded.

    One last thing there is a difference between how cable and satellite package providers bundle ES and how ES broadcasts it raw feed.
    On the Sky platform ES is regarded as a news channel, so is available as a part of the basic channel line-up (I don’t have any Sky Sports but I do have ES).
    And if you can be bothered you could always point your sat dish away from Astra and to Hotbird where you will get ES without the need for a card in your receiver, you will get the international feed, but you wont get your nice and convenient sky package bundle.

  17. Interesting piece. Shouldn’t we celebrate that at least Andalusia, the oldest race of the 3, is available to all? Yesterday was chapter one of this season’s Skytrain vs Movistar, and it was good fun.

  18. I’m going to be a heretic here. 95% of the time live cycling on TV is boring, except for the last hour.

    I love cyclocosm’s race recaps. If he’d do a half-hour recap for each stage it would be the best thing ever, and it wouldn’t have to be live.

    The footage remains a problem. Once cameras are allowed on bikes that will help some, and drones will slowly reduce the cost of aerial footage. It’s a long way to go though.

  19. A few other comments touch on it, but I think distribution needs a little deeper dig here.

    There are many races I _cannot_ pay for directly online in the US because NBC owns the US rights, and, coincidentally, they’d like me instead to give more money to their parent company (to whom I already pay a non-trivial but fair monthly sum for Internet access) so that I can get 350 other channels I don’t want.

    There were (and possibly still are—it’s been a while since I tried institutionally approved methods) for mobile access, which is really just vile. It’s the same Internet.

  20. The helicopter issue won’t be one much longer. Remote Control drones (micro-UAVs, or MAVs) are now cheap, effective and can carry broadcast quality cameras as the Sochi coverage has shown. You need a small team and operation from strategic points along the parcours, but it is already feasible.

  21. Ulitmately Oman are doing everything but put the race out live. The bikes are there, as is the helicopter. The only thing missing is the live relay. With Qatar having very limited legal live exposure and Oman none, you’d wonder exactly what’s in it for these countries. And ASO’s 24 hr delay in putting the highlights on is woeful.

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