The Reasons Why Every Tour Stage is Shown Live in Full

When Guillaume Van Keirsbulck took off yesterday we got to see his attack live on TV and then the rest of the 200km procession. Good TV? Perhaps not unless you’re tuning in for the scenery but it’s better than the alternatives on a midweek afternoon.

Having all the stages televised live from start to finish is a novelty for 2017. Why? It’s a story of supply, demand and dull daytime TV schedules.

One reason to show the race from the start is that action can happen from the start. It’s not always the case and we’ve already seen the break form without a fight, if riders want to go away for the day then the peloton says au revoir. But there will be days when the first hour can deliver more action that the final hour and this makes for compelling TV. As Julien Goupil, head of media at ASO, the company that owns the Tour de France, told L’Equipe last month, broadcasters had been asking for the signal right from the start and so after meetings and planning it’s happened this year. It’s not as simple as recording an extra hour or two, it adds up to a lot of extra costs and constraints.

The action on TV is what we hope for but the decision has plenty 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, said Daniel Bilalian, then head of sports at France Télévisions in an interview with L’Equipe’s print edition last year. They’re also watching online. All this means advertising revenue is falling for traditional television channels because people can skip over the ad breaks. By contrast sports events are “consumed” live, obviously you can’t fast forward through live coverage and people watch precisely because it’s in realtime with the prospect that anything can happen (even if it doesn’t). This means live events are potentially more valuable than other content. Exceptional sports events like the Tour de France and the Olympics also act as rallying points explained 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 sources of content a long, live production is a way to gain some extra viewers.

The other matter is the alternatives: there’s not much else on TV during a midweek afternoon. France Télévisions’ schedules are packed with dubbed detective series from the eighties and nineties like Inspecteur Derrick, Kommissar Rex or Les Enquêtes de Murdoch, “The Murdoch Mysteries”, a Canadian series set in 18th century Toronto. So if it’s a repeat of a crime-fighting German shepherd suddenly the Tour de France has its appeal. Even if the peloton is just riding across the landscape the live aspect is valuable and many, in fact the largest segment of the audience, tune in to watch the landscape. It’s no coincidence that many mountain stages are placed on the weekends or Bastille Day where larger audiences are possible and the 200km countryside processionals happen midweek.

So far the live coverage hasn’t affected the racing. It’s one thing to go in a futile breakaway but another if it’s filmed for hours with bountiful publicity for the sponsors but this hasn’t appealed to the teams so far, just ask Guillaume Van Keirsbulck.

It’ll be interesting to see if the tail of television starts to wag the dog in terms of course design. In fact it has already, glance at this year’s route and the wishes of television producers can be seen all over such as the varied route with, say, the Longwy uphill finish or the tendency to shorter stages that in recent years have been shown live in full. Will more stages become shorter because of TV? Yes for the action but if the point is to pad the schedules with live TV in order to replace stale repeats then maybe not plus for all the action that short stages such as the Critérium du Dauphiné’s super Sunday deliver they cannot happen daily because they’re too exhausting.

Just because it’s live doesn’t mean you have to watch it, some stages simply can’t bring the action we crave. Broadcasters demanded full live coverage and it’s a great addition for some stages. It’s also because of the way the media landscape is changing, with people watching via catch-up and recorded shows. Live TV delivers a live audience which is valuable to broadcasters, especially if it replaces old repeats that pad out the schedules and attract few viewers.

39 thoughts on “The Reasons Why Every Tour Stage is Shown Live in Full”

  1. Interesting article. Personally I can’t see a downside to having it broadcast start to finish, knowing I can dip in and out as suits. It would be a shame to see the character of the race change too much, a 3 week tour can’t be all action every day.

    • The 8:30pm start time is great, but you’ve still got to make it through to 1:30am for the finish!
      Good winter training miles prior to the long tough summer days of in front of the TV watching the test cricket…

  2. Look. Commentators need to understand they are actually entertainers. So those that have had a sense of humour bypass (cough . . . Brian Smith) need to get with the programme. Ok, a bit tongue in cheek but the best humour has a grain of truth. And while I am on the case, what’s with so many respondents beginning their answer with the order to ‘look’?
    As to the whole stage being televised, for me as a retiree it has been wonderful. Best excuse I ever had for not working on the accursed garden. Early morning ride to coffee stop, then back for the Tour. Love it . .

    • Brian Smith has had a sense of humour bypass? Is this just for Le Tour? That would be a shame because usually his wit is as dry as sandpaper and a good foil to Carlton Kirby’s hyperactivity.

      • I agree, I have come to like the Combo of Kirby and Smith. Much as I like Ned Bolting (despite his clowning on the ITV show snippets with Boardman) I can’t stand his duo with Miller who I find too cynical for my tastes

        • One of the pleasant by-products of this change is Eurosport’s decision to rotate it’s commentators through the stage to prevent them and the coverage getting too stale – much as the BBC do with its radio cricket coverage. For me, this works really well. Maybe they’ll start to do it for the classics, too?
          With the factors that IR describes and the outstanding Paris-Roubaix the very first time this was tried, there was no way that this was not going to happen to the Tour.

          • have to agree and also say that the whole presentation by Eurosport has been great this year for the GTs. I was hesitant about the addition of Jonathan Edwards but he has added some slickness that previous hosts could not. Brian and Sean are very experienced ex pros who haver ridden at the top level and managed as well. Whgen they speak you should sit up and listen. Even Carlton I can cope with he recognises his limitations but Rob Hatch just needs to learn to stop talking incessant rubbish. Yesterday’s tosh was ‘It’s all about the time cut for these guys now’ Time cut??! This isn’t the Pyrenees after 3 * 25 minute cols at 8%. It’s the Vosges 2k at 6% last ramp excepted. He just can’t stop talking non-stop tosh. He ruined the Giro for me I had to turn the sound off sometimes. It’s a personal thing I guess.

            Rant over Eurosport have really sorted out the coverage this year and I can’t wait for the Vuelta.

  3. I think this trend will mark contemporary riders’ comeuppance. Predictable scenarios will be deterred by TVs, and nothing but heroics, agony and goofiness will do. Riders will have to admit their very special job is to be heroes, martyrs, and clowns. 😀

  4. I could have a long rant on this but I’ll try to be calm and concise. There were lots of comments yesterday on social media (before THAT crash) at how boring it was, that sprint stages shouldn’t be covered in full, that stages such be all short, sharp, attacking-inducing affairs and I was depressed. I wondered what these people think the Tour de France is. I got my answer: apparently in this “Britain’s Got Talent” and “I’m A Celebrity” age people think the Tour is primarily entertainment! I demur (or is that Demare?) from this view. The Tour is historically a bike race and a long one. In the past we had 300km long stages, people starting in the dark and finishing in the dark and all manner of things those other than me we have better knowledge to describe. My point is the Tour is primarily an endurance cycling event. It is NOT an entertainment-led sports televisual showpiece and long may it continue that way.

    So I, for one, do not think a 212kms stage for a sprint finish is boring. I accept that this is the race and part of the challenge of the race is that it is an endurance event. (In order to finish first you must first finish the course.) Enduring the length of the course and, yes, even the supposed boredom and lack of action, is part of the skillset necessary to win. I am also one who has also watched for where they ride as well as how the ride occurs. I’ve said before on this blog that I have found places to go on holiday from watching grand tours, including this one. The Tour has always, of course, been about advertising from the original French paper which initiated the race.

    So I worry when others speaking the lingo of marketing and PR say that the race needs to be more “exciting”. It comes across to me as fake and artificial. Part of the thrill of this race or any cycle race for me is suspense, not knowing what will happen or, indeed, when. I don’t want some “Its A Knockout” (a 1970s game show based on teams getting round an obstacle course) version of the Tour with manufactured stages in which organisers try to induce “excitement”. The Tour is a symphony not an overture so let it play out as one, as it wants to. If this is all too much for your short and difficult to stimulate minds go and do whatever people do who need a quick hit every five minutes. I will be watching the French countryside go by and thoroughly enjoying it. Who knows, a bike race might even occasionally break out.

    • The Tour has changed a lot for TV, see the way they keep changing the stages, a sprint here, a climb there. This year’s route uses all five mountain ranges in France in order to ensure there’s GC action regularly throughout the race, there are short stages made for TV and more.

      But French geography can only do so much and there will always be 200km processions. Some will complain it’s boring TV but what do people expect across this terrain? Also it might not always be gripping to watch but TV is only one viewpoint, the Tour averages half a million roadside spectators a day and flat or mountains they enjoy the show coming past, to shorten the stage can be to pass fewer people so TV can’t rule everything.

      • There are many similarities between cricket and cycling and some very big warning signs. Both have short events and long events where the narrative builds over time. Both sports have both explosive athletes and those who personify patience and endurance. Both have a long historical past and a wealth of statistics. The warning for cycling is the way that the entrepreneurial capitalists who run television and the sports governing bodies will never be content with the innate qualities which attract people to a sport in the first place. So in cricket there is a huge push to alienate all traditional cricket supporters and replace them with people who have no interest in cricket but are looking for ready made, instantly forgettable, often alcohol fuelled excitement. The only reason for this is to increase revenue. The discussions on your site about shorter stages etc are the thin end of the wedge. Stages run completely in parkland where an admission charge is possible may well be the next step once you have accepted the need for shorter stages. On the other hand European thinking may favour the social aspect of sport more than the commerce, regrettably not the case in UK.

    • RonDe – you’re completely right. From a sporting view, we need the boring parts of the race to ensure the best and strongest rider wins.

      If you’re bored with 200km of flat racing, then only watch the final hour, or 30 minutes.

    • Yeah, but that 50-up team time trial in the Hammer Series would have been even more funny if Stuart Hall had been doing the commentary.

  5. Thanks Inrng and community. This is place is a sanctuary.

    Interesting post on Live TV. I really like it and enjoy the flexibility it offers me in viewing experiences.

    Reflecting on the influence of media on television Tour, I do think If 3 week tours didn’t exist, they wouldn’t be green lighted now. They are a link to the past when the main media was print and news came slowly. The Tour is a beautiful memory, a ghost and a new born child. I love the dynamic diversity of terrain and action.

  6. The French watching Derrick and Kommissar Rex don’t shed a good light on them. And Germans neither. This is stuff from and for the undead.
    Then watching a dull 200km stage is even better, yeah. Though the long stages makes commentators talk much more nonsense and repeat it than they already do. But I do not envy them about this job. All the years they had to fill 1-2 hours, now 4-5, and I guess the salary didn’t double.

  7. Derrick is good though, maybe not so much dubbed in french unless eating the right sort of champignon?

    You’ll miss “Harry, Ich bin klein” (which was only said once through the entire series if I remember correctly). Sorry, Horst Tappert had a summer house close to my familys, it’s hard to be objective.
    Maybe he could solve the Sagan/Cav mystery?

    Anyway, I think it’s great with full coverage. Don’t like it, don’t watch it.
    I love logging on my phone to ES during the start of the stage to see if there is breakaway action. Checking in from time to time to see what’s up. And, watching from Norway – we have really good commentators, both on ES and on TV2 which – were you to watch a full stage – it’s ok even if the stage is boring.
    And, you can switch channels in adbreaks!

  8. I wish the commentators would shut up more often – perhaps for ten minutes at a time even – and just let us watch the race moving through the lovely landscapes. Today’s stage from Vittel was wonderful.

    • Eurosport Player seems to offer the silent option, and it IS wonderful. I have nothing against the announcers, but to hear the wheels on pavement and the chatter in the group and just the idea of a fairly quiet day, that is a really wonderful experience for me. I leave it on that mode for the entire stage.

      That said, if I feel a need to know what is going on in more detail, I do tap into one of the text streams to find out who just attacked in that white looking jersey and if that really was Bauke Mollema tailing off the leaders group. The combination of fairly silent video and sparse detail in text is a great way for me to watch.

        • Completely missed the point Ron with your mis-informed interjection. The silent option offers all the live sounds that you would hear if you were attending the event live but without the inane drivelling of paid by the word commentators. What we need next is a silent+Sean Kelly option that spares us from Rob Hatch!

  9. Whats not to like. The more TV coverage the better for sponsors, supporters and the sport in general.

    Lets hope the trial proves a success, the race format is not disrupted too much and start to finish coverage becomes the norm for more than just the Tour.

  10. There is no way I can watch\listen Eurosport for a full stage with Kirby. I only turn over when ITV4 is having one of its many 4min adds

  11. I think a lot of these debates seem to ignore a crucial aspect of interesting/boring sport which is that you have to have both in order to have either, especially in well established sports (like every major sport). the early days of motor racing attracted vast live audiences because of the novelty of the spectacle – these days the novelty is gone so people are attracted by subtler markers of interest and hence the distinction between boring racing and exciting racing.

    cycling is an interesting case because it’s very varied – you can have brief moments of action (stage 4’s sprint was undeniably exciting, if somewhat unsatisfying, but it came after hours of not a lot), or sustained tension (decent mountain stages), or craziness (cross-winds, paris-roubaix). things don’t fall into the standard routine as they do in other sports. however, you still have to have some boring moments to differentiate it from the exciting ones.

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