Robert Wickens and Will Power lead the field into Turn 1 at the start of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg -- Photo by: Chris Owens
Robert Wickens and Will Power lead the field into Turn 1 at the start of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg -- Photo by: Chris Owens

INDYCAR’s much anticipated television rights announcement was revealed today and the news is that from 2019, Indycar will be exclusively on the NBC group of channels, including for the Indianapolis 500 therefore concluding INDYCAR’s long standing relationship with ABC in the United States.

So what does the deal include?

The headline is that NBC replace ABC as the host broadcaster of the Indianapolis 500. Beyond that, NBC will broadcast seven additional races throughout the season on the main NBC network channel. The remaining races will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network. All races will be live streamed additionally on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App. Additionally the deal is set to include a Direct-to-consumer package utilising the NBC Sports Gold platform. This is set to include non televised Qualifying, Practices, Indy Lights and Full Event Replays. The deal is for three years and is applicable in the United States, U.S. territories and the Caribbean.

The domestic impact.

I think compared to the deal Indycar signed back in 2009 which was most races on the upstart Versus network that eventually became NBC SN and a continuation of a few races on ABC, this is a much more positive deal for Indycar. The race day coverage portion of the deal sounds highly positive. I think most people would agree that putting more races on network TV can only be seen as a positive and hopefully boost Indycars TV fortunes. I also think that the biggest criticism of NBC’s coverage of the IndyCar Series has nothing to do with the quality, it is always seen as the superior coverage to ABC’s offering but it didn’t have the reach. Now they can showcase NBC’s Indycar coverage on network TV, as long as the coverage quality continues as has been expected then I think a lot of people will be rather happy with this deal from a race broadcast perspective.

The issue with this deal, and I don’t want to sound overly critical of Indycar when you compare it to the last deal is the impact that the NBC Gold portion may have as it appears to be at the expense of INDYCAR’s rather excellent YouTube and Facebook streaming. For which they’ve broadcast Indycar practice, qualifications, Indy Lights, Mazda Road to Indy, on demand broadcasts days after the race and some throwback historic races mid week. All of which is now seemingly heading to NBC Gold from 2019.

I think that is a great shame to be honest, and probably the one aspect of the deal I’m unsure about. I want to see Indycar grow and I feel locking a large amount of content that to be honest isn’t that in demand for the majority of people behind a paywall isn’t good for the series and I’m particularly worried about the impact this may have on the already struggling to attract car numbers Indy Lights series.

On the other hand, if NBC are willing to provide a platform in NBC Gold and seemingly pay Indycar for this content, then they must believe more in its value than perhaps I do. I’m just not sure if I was in the United States and I’m not so I can’t even access NBC Gold, even if I wanted too. I would  be particularly keen about paying money for Practice, Lights and some archive Indycar races from the good old days. There’s the other aspect too which is that as we’ve seen from the F1 deal, NBC are keen that OTT programming is kept within its ecosystem and it appears Indycar is happy with that arrangement, at least for the next three years to keep its broadcast partner happy and with the rest of the deal they’ve achieved, I can’t criticise them too heavily for wanting to do that.

The international impact

At the moment, International is more guesswork and hope than knowledge. INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles explained in the teleconference today that they wanted to get the domestic coverage deal done first before focusing on international component.

Indycar for the most part, outside the United States is distributed and syndicated at present by ESPN International. An agreement which began in CART in 1990 and with the IRL since 2002. However throughout all of that time ESPN or ABC held a portion of the Indycar rights in the USA. Now it no longer will. A lot of questions remain as to what will happen regarding Indycars international package, going forwards and what change this might bring.

Mark Miles was asked during the teleconference today about this.

Q. The international rights, I guess they were previously done by ESPN International. What are you thinking there? Does this deal preclude the use of ESPN International for the international stuff or do you see yourself going out and doing individual deals like F1 does and Formula E does in each country?

MARK MILES: That’s a good question. It does not preclude an ongoing involvement by ESPN International. Although with any result, I think it will change. There may be countries where we go direct to broadcasters in any major country with IndyCar interests. I see us being at the table, even if we go with a distributor or packager like ESPN International.

 

Unpacking that, it appears Indycar would like to have a bit more of an active involvement in how the sport is broadcast outside of the USA. It also sounds like Indycar would prefer a traditional broadcast route outside of the USA, rather than an ‘IMSA’ style online streaming package for international viewers.

What this might mean in terms of the UK, is that the deal signed in the USA could have an impact on the coverage here. At present Indycar is shown on BT Sport ESPN, a channel with a licensing and content deal with ESPN International yet owned by British Telecom who are providing good coverage of the series currently. It would be ideal if Indycar could stay with this channel from a personal point of view but that will likely be challenging if the series is no longer represented by ESPN Internationaland even if ESPN international continues with Indycar. The broadcast world in the UK may shift dramatically if or rather when the Disney/FOX deal is concluded.

The options however for going elsewhere in the UK are quite limited. The series doesn’t attract high viewing figures in the UK and therefore is quite obscure so you can probably cross out most of the major free-to-air broadcasters here, unless Channel 4 fancies having a go once their F1 coverage concludes at the end of 2018.

Five is probably the only free-to-air relatively high reach broadcaster which could be considered somewhat realistic. The channel has hosted IRL before in the mid 2000s. Presently hosts highlights of MotoGP and WRC and has live coverage of Formula E and is owned by US giant Viacom. If Indycar was to try and speak to broadcasters themselves in the UK in terms of potential reach, Five could be the solution.

Beyond that, it is mostly whichever pay tv network wants it, or gets it as part of a bundle. Sky, Eurosport and BT are basically the options. Sky broadcast Indycar until the end of 2012 when a year after Sky F1 was launched, the broadcaster dropped Indycar. Eurosport formally broadcast CART, although hasn’t broadcast American Open Wheel in many years and is now owned by Discovery. BT Sport either through it’s ESPN branded channel or one of its BT Sport Channels may well remain the best option for Indycar in the UK when it comes to pay TV. Other smaller sports channels which could carry it, but I feel this would be a step down from the current Indycar coverage.

I’m not worried about losing Indycar coverage internationally in terms of race day coverage. It will in all likelihood be broadcast somewhere, the only question is how much involvement Indycar has in that decision. I’m also quite looking forward to the prospect of a new graphics package if the international distributor changes as some of the current graphics set used in Indycar international broadcasts is still the same as in the 1990s.

What I am concerned about internationally is that we will once again lose access to the rest of Indycar coverage beyond just showing the race which we have gained in the last couple of years as a result of Indycar showing this content on YouTube live. I hope Indycar realises this is the only access point for this content overseas and that NBC Gold isn’t available outside of the USA so we can’t access it. If the series doesn’t then it may well be a case of gathering ‘round the wireless (ok Tunein radio on the android) for hearing the sounds of Indycar beyond race day once again.

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photogcw
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photogcw

It’s a better deal than the previous one. Still, it will be unusual seeing the Indy 500 on a network other than ABC. It should be no surprise to see NBC throwing themselves deep into Indycars. When it comes to sports in the USA, NBC is probably the poorest when it comes to content. Other than the Olympics and Notre Dame college football, the network has very few attractive sports franchises.

Forrest
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Forrest

The adoption rate of the NBC Gold package is going to come down to price, plain and simple. If they price it reasonably, say $5 or $6 per month, I’ll get it so I can watch the practices and qualifying that aren’t on TV. If they get greedy, then I’ll make do with listening to them on the Indycar Radio Network using TuneIn.