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Using the power of technology to safeguard the future of motorsports

June 25, 2018

Mehul Kapadia   

Blog contributor

Technology innovation is enabling a new future across the entire ecosystem of motorsports. It is driven by a relentless pace of change in how fans want to watch and immerse themselves in the action at home, on the move, and around the racetrack.

While car manufacturers are making the cars greener and faster to match their increasingly discerning customers’ expectations, technology companies like Tata Communications help safeguard the future of motorsports in four different areas: keeping fans engaged; enabling rights holders to enhance their profitability; allowing media companies and broadcasters to create more content; and improving the appeal of motorsports for venues.

Rediscovering motorsports’ common touch

At present, motorsports are seen by many as an exclusive and inaccessible world. As a hobby – compared to other sports like cricket, football or tennis – it has high barriers to entry due to the cost of equipment and track time, as well as the time demands for would-be professionals. It can take years before drivers begin earning prize money and only a tiny percentage of boys and girls who ride karts make it to the very top.

Some commentators believe that this air of exclusivity has a detrimental effect on participation in motorsports – whether it’s a lack of people dreaming about becoming F1 drivers or dwindling TV audiences – which has a knock-on effect that can hurt the entire commercial value chain, from rights holders and broadcasters to the venues.

Motorsports such as F1, MotoGP and Formula E are predicated on the thrill of the man versus machine spectacle. Only the very best drivers will ever compete in those most exhilarating of circumstances, let alone stand on the podium. However, there is an opportunity for motorsports of all kinds to attract audiences from broader socio-economic backgrounds as well as age groups.

Looking at the relationship between the motoring industry and motoring TV shows, the popularity of programmes such as Top Gear and The Grand Tour are examples of how to make the inaccessible accessible to viewers. The average car show viewer is unlikely to buy a supercar at any point in their life, yet they still tune to in to watch their favourite celebrities drift them around an abandoned race track or a country road. It’s because it is relatable and removes the veil of what would be an otherwise exclusive market for the majority of people.

 Opening up new broadcasting opportunities

While Top Gear and The Grand Tour have made supercars relatable, there is also an opportunity to make motorsports more locally relevant for fans – and generate new revenue streams for rights holders and broadcasters in the process. The 2018 Indian Premier League twenty20 tournament – the first for Star India since it acquired the global media rights for USD $2.55 billion – consisted of 60 matches taking place over 50 days. What made the tournament different from global motorsports is that each fixture featured local adverts targeted at audiences in different regions, as well as local commentary and other compelling content in six languages to complement the action on the pitch.

This highly targeted, customised approach – which relies on the latest innovations in remote production, underpinned by superfast connectivity and cloud-based video distribution – is focused on enabling the rights holder and the broadcasters to maximise their investment in the sport, through every event and in each region.

However, one of the advantages of productions like Top Gear and The Grand Tour have over live sports broadcasts is that they are purpose-built for TV. The first season of The Grand Tour had an average production budget of around $3.05m an episode and its iconic test track scenes take an entire day of filming – all for a few minutes of broadcast content.

You might think that the spectacle of a live sport is so pure and unfiltered, so if for any reason a race lacks competition or drama, the thrill of the motorsports spectacle on TV will suffer. CNN is proving the contrary. It’s a great example of a broadcaster that has embraced the opportunities to generate captivating content and new revenue streams from the world of F1 without being an official F1 broadcaster. Instead, its F1 series The Circuit capitalise on the appeal of the big personalities and global brands’ investment in the sport. However, it can be a huge challenge from a technical and logistical perspective for broadcasters like CNN to grab their share of the F1 action in this way behind the scenes of each Grand Prix. That is why more and more content creators are turning to the latest advancements in ultra-lean video production technology to enable them to develop and distributes a wealth of engaging, high-quality motorsports content for global online audiences with speed and agility.

Creating more immersive viewing experiences

We are also witnessing a surge in immersive technologies that can bring the thrill of the trackside experience and the pit lane – as well as the personalities and stars involved in motorsports – to fans all over the world. It’s about bringing viewers closer to the action than ever before and making every corner, every close shave and every windy straight more immersive. An example of such innovation is Tata Communications’ successful demonstration of its 360-degree live video concept at the 2017 Singapore F1 Grand Prix. The trial put viewers right in the heart of the action, and it showed how fans could be given greater control than ever to choose how they want to watch and engage with F1 – jumping on-board Lewis’ car, or seeing up-close as his engineering team strategizes in the pit lane.

Motorsports can also learn from other sports experimenting with new ways of growing their audiences commercially, geographically and demographically though more immersive and engaging content. When it comes to social media, a number of major US sports organisations including NFL, MLB and NHL have experimented with Twitter live streams, and the Facebook Watch video platform now enables US users to watch live events in a community setting. The array of content motorsports can draw on, whether it’s racing clips, under the bonnet features, data stories or interviews with the people involved with and behind the scenes, makes social media a bountiful avenue to explore.

If you build it, they will come

In the age of social media, virtual reality and online streaming, it is easy to forget that ultimately what all motorsports depend on is getting people to buy tickets to see the racing action live. This is where technology can play a role too, boosting the profitability of events for venues, rights holders and sponsors. There are a range of new experiences that ubiquitous trackside connectivity could enable for fans, as local services both at the circuit and outside it could be integrated into a bespoke fan app, including maps, information on parking, restaurants, and so on. Fans could also use it to easily carry out mobile payments for food and merchandise at the circuit, making the whole race experience more seamless.

But that’s just the start. With the network as the foundation, there could be the Internet of Things sensors worn by the fans on a wristband, or placed on beacons throughout the venue. These could be used to power up location-based experiences such as augmented reality avatars of the drivers or riders during key race moments.

All in all, it’s an exciting time for motorsports, with technology now the gateway to progress. Liberty Media is leading F1’s digital transformation and Formula E is attracting participation from car giants such as Tata Communications’ sister company Jaguar Land Rover, which sees electric cars as a fundamental part of its business strategy.

Given the world of opportunity that technology innovation can bring to make motorsports more accessible and open up new revenue opportunities for rights holders, broadcasters, sponsors as well as venues, I have no doubt that the future is bright for this whole ecosystem.

Read more about innovations in motorsports in our previous blog here.