PHOTO: INDYCAR, STEVE SHUNCK

Streamlined: How Streaming Technology Affects How We Watch Racing

One of the favorite topics at the Slipstream Network is how live video streaming can improve the viewing experience for race fans at home. Despite the progress motorsports has made in live streaming in the past few years, there are still significant problems sanctioning bodies must overcome as they bring their product to customers in the future. Though live streaming has expanded exponentially in the past few years, motorsports in general still has a few things it can do to propel itself into the future of media consumption.

A major issue is the lack of cross-compatibility of streaming apps across devices. For example, even though a fan is able to watch live streaming of FIA World Endurance Championship races through iOS and Android apps, Chromecast is currently the only good way to bring that experience to the televisions. As motorsports enters an age of cord-cutting and streaming, sanctioning bodies and their respective app developers should remember to develop apps for not only mobile devices, but for streaming devices such as the Apple TV, Roku, or any number of gaming consoles. By making the content available for a wide range of devices, series’ increase the likelihood that fans can watch their events in new and exciting ways.

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The FIA WEC is one of the leaders in live video streaming, allowing fans to purchase a season-pass for live content for $34. While this is ahead of what many series are doing in terms of streaming services, it still poses problems for viewers that they may not suffer if they subscribed to a cable service. The WEC recently announced plans to offer a $1.99 per race package that allows for on-demand race playback, but it is still an area that needs to be addressed as streaming becomes a more popular way of watching auto racing, particularly if fans are already paying a premium to watch the series’ races.

All of this culminates in a simple request that all streaming customers have: give us an experience comparable or better than that of television viewers. For fans of sports car racing in the United States, it was frustrating to see the quality of live streams for practice and qualifying of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, but be left out in the cold on race day. Due to exclusivity deals between IMSA and FOX, only a fraction of the twelve-hour event was available to non-cable subscribers. Though it takes contract negotiations, it would be worth the fan experience for the series to retain its own streaming rights, keeping it away from networks that require cable subscriptions.

imageEven though there are definite problems with motorsports current streaming structure, it is in an equal or better spot compared to traditional “stick-‘n’-ball” sports. Auto racing is different from all other sports in the way it embraces technology. From in-car cameras to live telemetry available to fans, motorsports excels when it puts technology at the forefront of its consumer experience. Because of the already technical nature of the sport, auto racing is liable to take gambles in terms of technology that other sports might not risk.

Even though the streaming discussion in motorsports generally focuses on at-home experiences, IMSA flipped the script recently by announcing an at-the-track streaming and telemetry device. The Viung is a $40, single-use streaming device that uses UHF signal, as opposed to cellular data or Wi-Fi. While it sounds like a tool that could be easily replaced by a smartphone, the Viung is an example of motorsports sanctioning bodies pushing the envelope in the way it delivers content to their fans.

Perhaps a less-risky evolution of motorsports media imageconsumption intersects with the ever-growing behemoth that is social media. The future of live streaming could blur the lines between broadcasting and social media. Twitter recently announced an agreement to air the NFL’s Thursday Night Football games. With Twitter’s new streaming endeavor, its preexisting Periscope application, and Facebook’s growing live video platform, motorsports could find the best of both worlds between streaming and social media. If this new platform of sports broadcasting is stable enough for the NFL, one of the world’s largest sports institutions, surely motorsports can take advantage of the technology to its full capabilities.

Live streaming is nothing if not a mixed bag for racing sanctioning bodies and their fans. Though it is easy to get frustrated when streaming of an on-track session is interrupted by technical difficulties, it is important to remember how far motorsports and the technology used to bring action to the fans has come in recent memory. With more people cutting ties from cable companies than ever, expect streaming to become an even more important pillar of motorsports broadcasting.

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