So what’s the future?

  • Posted: Friday, 9th July 2021
  • Author: Carl Evans

In the conclusion to a look at the streaming of point-to-pointing, Carl Evans gains further views...

It is said of the livestreaming of point-to-pointing that ‘the genie is out of the bottle’, implying that it is here to stay and its future is assured, but is it?

At local level at least it is likely to remain a feature in the sport, although some feel its role will be irrelevant in a post-Covid season when owners and spectators can once again attend meetings.

Over a number of years the ‘broadcasting’ of point-to-pointing has been tried by enthusiastic amateurs and satellite broadcasters without commanding the sort of viewing figures which grab attention. Yet Covid’s arrival, and with it a bar on spectators at race meetings for large parts of the 2020/21 season, shed new light on the potential. It was not a collective process, for individual meetings were left to choose whether to livestream or not, but with more than 30 fixtures opting to try the technology a sharp learning curve with plenty of feedback was achieved.

Peter Wright, chief executive of the Point-to-Point Authority (PPA) says: “Streaming was a godsend with owners unable to attend. It enabled the sport to continue in a cohesive fashion and it provides some wonderful opportunities, but the question remains as to how it can be financially viable. It will take another season for lessons to be learned.”

Wright jokes that he did not take his job in order to become a movie mogul, and does not have the resources to create a centralised streaming hub – which would coordinate funds, film crews and the technical aspects of streaming – so it seems for now individual meetings will continue to find their own way through the streaming maze. However, all these aspects are being considered at the top of the sport.

PPA Chief Executive Peter Wright being interviewed by Cornelius Lysaght during Maisemore's livestream in October

Ilona Barnett, chair of the Point-to-Point Secretaries Association which represents the secretaries who pull meetings together, says of livestreaming: “It’s something that point-to-pointing should get involved with, but the problem is that doing it properly is expensive. Technology is moving forward, which has enabled it to happen [in point-to-pointing] to some extent, but when you are charging for a product people expect it to be perfect – it’s difficult for point-to-pointing to handle and move forward with.”

Among issues which Barnett and other members of the Point-to-Point Board are considering is centralised responsibility, but she says: “Whatever happens we are not going to leave anyone floundering and will be printing guidelines and advice on best practice.”

Other issues for discussion include whether any central focus be placed solely on mid-winter meetings – when crowds are thin and viewing from home would be popular – and whether fixtures would agree to stagger start times of races in order to avoid livestream clashes. Is pay-per-view the way forward, or could voluntary contributions suffice, or would sponsors pay more knowing they are reaching a wider audience?

“Could we expect the same viewing figures next season?” asks Barnett, mindful that a post-Covid season will be different from the most recent one, “or could it be that people will prefer to watch from an armchair than go racing?’

Technology could be the key, for if advances in production mean costs come down, livestreaming has a better chance of becoming established. Barnett says: “Devon and Cornwall did a fantastic job in pushing forward on ways to broadcast, but there were serious financial implications, and while they had very good viewing figures at the start of the season, they had dropped by the end.

“We are an amateur sport pushing at the envelope of professional sport – and there are integrity issues to consider when you are broadcasting live pictures – but it is a subject that is high on the priority list.”

Luke Harvey, who presented streaming coverage at several meetings

View from behind the lens

Jeff Guyett of West Country Videos was one of three cameramen – along with David Jones and Mat Hazell – who film regularly at point-to-points and who supplied the live pictures used in streaming last season. Pembrokeshire Video Productions did not get involved as there were no Welsh meetings.

Guyett, whose company sells DVDs of races and receives a fee for supplying films for use in the results section of this website, says: “Livestreaming was a double-edged sword. On the one hand we recognised we had to do something to help the sport, but we couldn’t work for nothing. We have all been independent, able to decide on the content, and suddenly someone else was making those decisions.”

Editorial issues can be ironed out, but deciding on a clear payment system will be essential if camera operators are to stand out in all weathers filming races. Guyett says that will have to be resolved so he knows if he is being paid by the organisers of individual meetings, by the area association, by a central fund or by the livestream operator.

He adds: “We filmed a two-day motorsport meeting recently. It was held over two days and they had more than 29,000 views. If we had received 10p a hit it would have been good business. I’m not sure point-to-pointing’s audience is big enough.”

More than just money

Should livestreaming be judged purely on the simple calculation of its cost against its return in pay-per-view or voluntary contributions? Or should it be placed in the category alongside portable toilets and tannoy systems, and be classed as an expense which benefits the meeting and the sport across the country?

Without a centralised system the costs for livestreaming will come down to deals between meetings and technical providers. If those companies also install tannoy systems and supply the radios which are essential for stewards and other officials the overall costs could come down.

Yet the financial implications should be considered in line with the potential for marketing. Streaming is an obvious marketing tool for the sport and another way of selling the virtues of a day at the races and the opportunities to get involved as owners, sponsors, riders and trainers. Sponsors could benefit through increased branding opportunities, and there will be other imaginative opportunities to explore.

One meeting which did not race last season has in the past provided racegoers with a giant screen, while at the same relaying the same images to individual smaller TV screens in hospitality marquees, enhancing the experience for sponsors and corporate racegoers who paid for an afternoon at the races, under cover and with a good lunch.

Advertisements are another potential source of revenue, although streaming platforms – not the streamers – call the shots on allowing adverts, or expect a payment for doing so.

As with so many facets of point-to-pointing, voluntary assistance and mates rates could prove key to the short-term future of streaming – it is going to be interesting to see how it unfolds.