Digital Viewing Recorders


The emergence of web 2.0 as a distribution alternative for traditional TV content has received a great deal of attention recently, and for good reason. Technology has indeed caught up with the convergence vision that tech industry leaders have been prognosticating about for years. In many households, mine included, watching video content on a computer or iPod that has been delivered via the Internet is occupying more and more time.

For a media rights holder this is both a daunting challenge and new opportunity. In motorsports there are a couple of interesting scenarios playing out on different scales and in different ways.

MotoGP, the third highest-viewed global TV sports property, behind F1 and soccer, has a claimed worldwide viewing audience that exceeds 300 million. For Dorna, the commercial rights holder for MotoGP, television rights revenues are a significant component of a very successful enterprise and an asset they protect and manage with great vigor. In addition to their far-reaching TV deals, Dorna has developed a terrific, fee-based website, motogp.com, that provides rich, ancillary content and race coverage to an even wider base of passion-fueled MotoGP fans.

In spite of this astute media rights management by Dorna, there is a website that broadcasts the Chinese network’s MotoGP broadcasts live via the Internet without permission from Dorna. And, being in China, there is not much recourse for Dorna at this time.

On a smaller scale, here in the U.S. beginning in 2007, AMA Motocross moved its U.S. TV distribution from the VS. cable channel to Speed Channel. This change will very likely increase TV viewership for motocross and there are some interesting new aspects to the structure of this deal.

Motocross, being somewhat of a niche sports property, is not in a position to receive a television rights fee and, in fact, must pay towards the production costs of the programming. This has allowed motocross to bring in non-TV-media partners to produce and distribute content from the events through the Internet. These online TV rights would have traditionally been held on to by the rights-paying TV partner who would have not likely exploited them.
The complexities of effective media rights management with the myriad of new media opportunities will continue to increase. Savvy rights holders will need to be looking for ways to exploit these and may be able to use them to offset the trends of decreasing TV revenues, increasing TV costs or non-availability of TV time.

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Cable, network, broadband, YouTube, wireless…it’s enough to make your head spin. As a group of executives with many years negotiating media deals for content providers, we at Hardcard can tell you that it’s a tough world out there. It’s tough and, potentially, very expensive to make an impression for niche sports like motorcycle racing.

More people tune into watch the Teutul’s build bikes than watch legitimate heroes drag elbows at Mid-Ohio, pirouette down the Corkscrew or blaze through Daytona’s banking at speeds and proximity that is heart stopping. Worse, both are minor compared to the average sitcom on network television.

So, where does it go from here? The landscape will continue to fracture. You can’t fight that tide. This will result in increased pressure on cable and network executives to air programming driving large audiences. They will, in turn, escalate costs to niche content providers or abandon them altogether. Content providers must be ready to respond to rapid changes in the distribution environment already underway.

In a recent interview Bill Gates shook his head in disbelief that more people don’t seem to see the future of content delivery via the internet. We’re almost there now. Tivo’s and DVR’s have empowered viewers significantly (see related blog) such that scheduling is no longer the issue – we can already watch things when we want. So the next evolution is the capacity to watch things where we want. The Internet is the means to provide that capacity.

As compression technology improves and broadband becomes more widely available there will come a point when the viewer cannot distinguish between content delivered via traditional distribution (cable, satellite or over the airwaves – if anybody still does that!) and the Internet. That moment, for better or worse, is coming. When it arrives, content providers will have the option to control distribution to hundreds of millions of homes (and even more hand held devices) rather than be dependent upon traditional media distribution partners. Are you ready? Is racing ready? Remember, it wasn’t long ago that a phone had to be plugged into the wall.

It’s no secret that time-shifted-viewing devices such as TiVo and cable-company-supplied DVRs are a motorsport fan’s best friend. The ability to catch every race in a series and to pause and view highlights in slow motion are some of the best things to happen to racing on TV. Unfortunately, so is fast-forwarding through commercials.

This has advertisers worrying about the impact of, and eyeballs on, their ads. They seek out in-program exposure as a way to reach fans thinking less are seeing their commercials than a traditional live viewing of a broadcast.

But this is not necessarily the case with a concentrated group of hard-core fans like motorsports has. Not that they don’t fast forward through the commercials of taped broadcasts—they still do! But they watch them closely. They watch the commercial pod with intense concentration so that they can stop the fast-forward and hit the play button right as the race comes back on.

They are actually seeing the advertiser and the product, albeit in high speed. The viewer gets a far greater impression than in a live commercial break where they go out to get a snack or use the bathroom. And if there is an ad that interests the viewers, they stop their rapid progression through it and watch it—perhaps even replaying it for a family member later.

And advertisers can also play the system. Put powerful imagery or content in the first five and last five seconds of an ad. Then, demand that the ad runs at the beginning or end of a commercial pod. A DVR viewer sees the first few seconds of each ad leading into the commercial break and the last few seconds of an ad at the end of a commercial break. If there is a compelling-enough message there, the viewer will use the DVR to see the entire ad.

Another way to gain impact during a viewer’s fast forwarding is to slow down the ad. Ads in slow motion appear in real time, more or less, when watched during a fast forward episode. A motocross bike looks amazing going through a set of whoops in super slow motion. When viewed in fast forward, it still makes a strong visual impact.

With understanding of the DVR and how viewers use them, motorsports marketers and advertisers can strategically maintain and even increase the impressions they receive from traditional television commercial advertising.