Motorsport Thoughts

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bike Racing and the mainstream/spreading the word

We've probably touched on this before, but thought it worth another mention/rant!

Today's race times at the Sachsenring were changed to mean they wouldn't clash with the F1 procession at Magny-Cours (for TV schedules it would seem). The same happened at Donington, and it's happened before too.

Now imho that's pretty lame, for a number of reasons:

In this day and age with internet broadcasts, digital TVs with all their recording technology, DVD recorders and everything, you'd think anyone who wanted to see both could easily find a way to do so without them having to be on at separate times.

But more so it seems to put forward the idea that bike racing is secondary in importance to Formula 1 and that everything else should be planned accordingly. Now for the life of me I can't figure out why at this stage someone would decide that. From my perspective, it always seemed as though bike racing was on the fringe of popular culture, without ever quite breaking into it. Formula One gets the new headlines in the papers, while biking mostly gets a small side column, sometimes interspersed with an article about Valentino or Dani or someone. And aside from Foggy's era, that's the way it always has been as far as I can see, in this country at least.

But things are changing. Bike racing is enjoying a golden age. The GPs are massively popular - ask the 95,000 at the Sachsenring, or the 70,000 at Donington two weeks ago (and that crowd was down slightly on 2005!). WSB is at an all-time high with similar big numbers watching. In Britain the domestic series is getting large crowds every time (about 25-30,000 each meeting). You get to a racetrack and realise that it's not a minority sport; there are loads of people who are in on it. My point being that bike racing - particularly MotoGP obviously - is getting there. It bet there were more people at the Sachsenring watching those brilliant races - which were everything that motor racing should be - than watching the snore-fest in France where some cars changed positions when they went into the pits.

We shouldn't be in the position where we're bowing to F1 any more - as far as I'm concerned we're nearly on equal footing. F1 may pull in bigger TV audiences, but how is anything else supposed to compete if it's being moved around? Part of the ease for casual fans - as it were - to watch F1 is that it's accesible; always on at the same time and on mainstream TV, which MotoGP is also over here nowadays.

It just seems decidedly wimpy to move things around. Maybe it was done with good intentions - to try and get in a few more half-interested viewers who are just sitting around watching TV all day. But imagine telling the riders that they're going out at 11 instead of one, because of Formula 1 TV schedules? How pathetic!

Another thing - tomorrow I'll walk into work and we'll talk about the weekend, and quite a few people will have watched the F1, and I bet hardly anyone or no-one will have seen the MotoGP. And I bet they all thought the F1 was tedious (I saw a few minutes of it in between other things today). We've all had those conversations, right?

At that point, you just want to grab them and say that they're missing out so badly, that everything that's wrong with F1 is right in MotoGP, that they can see overtaking, drama, excitement, riders showing their skill instead of testing how good their machine is and nothing else, and that basically what they want from a motor race but never get with F1 is right under their nose on another channel. But instead you just say 'oh, you didn't see it, that's a shame. Rossi won.' because the other stuff would be a bit melodramatic

So here's the challenge for everyone - try and get as many F1-watchers turned on to bike racing instead (don't bully them, just gentle cajoling!). Wouldn't it be great to get a few more people to see how fantastic bike racing is, and make Monday morning chat a bit better?


I could really do with this thread being shown as a spider-web diagram rather than blocks of text, as there's so many different angles to come at it from.The one I want to talk about now is the TV coverage issue. Absolutely, totally, TV coverage is very important and will continue to be for ever really.

But - think about how technology is changing things around. When I was born, in this country we had three terrestrial TV channels and nothing else. A fourth was added soon afterwards, and a fifth ten (?) years ago. But for most of my lifetime, the majority of TV viewers in Britain have watched four channels only. This gives what we now think of as maybe a fairly limited choice, and people got into the habit of maybe sticking to one channel and just watching it all the time they had the TV on. The viewing figures used to be huge for big programmes. Famously, the 1985 World Snooker final (snooker is quite big in Britain, for some reason) went on until after midnight and as watched by about 25 million people - about half the country. The big soap operas were watched by similar numbers every day. However, over the past 5,6,7 years, digital TV has come in and now half the country has it. Half the households in Britain have access to at least 50 and in most cases several hundred channels.

Viewing figures aren't, and never will be, what they used to be. Twenty million Britons won't watch the same thing, because they have two hundred channels to choose from instead of four. Viewing habits are changing too - people are getting less likely to sit around watching the same channel all day to see what's on it (not that it won't happen, but a lesser proportion will do so) - with so many channels you have to be choosy and know what you're looking for if you're to get anything worthwhile out of your TV. Agreed?

Maybe it's not quite the same in other countries, but I'd imagine it's going that way.

Think also about hardware. You can get TV channels on your computer now. Have you been to buy a VCR lately? Most of them are hard disks instead of a removable cassette. Isn't digital TV starting to look a bit more like things you get over the internet? You can possibly see where this is going - a few years down the line (not many, probably) it seems likely that what is now your TV, Satellite box, DVD player and VCR will become a bit of your computer - in the same way that mp3s and iTunes have made computers swallow up people's CD players.

I'm going somewhat out on a limb with this one [someone feel free to stop me], but it's looking more like the way we watch TV is going to change quite a bit over the next few years. Instead of a limited schedule across only a few channels, there'll be so much choice (there already is) that we'll need to better plan our viewing habits or miss out on things. Or record them of course.

The point I'm getting at - after all that - is that all this 'scheduling it around F1/avoiding F1' or whatever is possibly going to be irrelevent in a few years. The concept of the 'major channels' (like over here, BBC1 and ITV) that get most of the viewers, is going to become less and less relevent as Digital TV replaces current systems. So channels won't be able to rely on as many 'casual' viewers sitting round watching anything (there'll be some, but definitely less). F1, MotoGP, documentaries, the news, Neighbours, etc are all in the process of finding out who's really that bothered about watching them instead of being able to rely on slightly lazy viewers with little choice.

Things broadcast as TV don't have to justify themselves to the TV stations so much any more - because there are/will be so many out there - but have to justify themselves completely to the viewers on their own merits because in a world of such choice you need to pick out the good and sift out the crap. And sooner or later all bulls**ters get found out.

So why should MotoGP (or WSB for that matter) look to be F1's b**ch at a time like this?


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