By Debra Kaufman
Special to TelevisionWeek
If you like to be in the driver’s seat, Speed has just the application for you: Speed On-Board Pass, a broadband offering accessed through SpeedTV.com that puts the viewer inside real race cars on the track.
The application enables viewers with a need for speed to watch a race on television while using their computers to toggle through point-of-view shots from up to six cameras inside the actual race cars. Speed provides a dedicated stream from all of these on-board cameras, as well as the car-to-pit audio communications, live timing and scoring. “This is the Holy Grail,” said Speed VP of Business Development and Operations Kevin Annison.
On-Board Pass, in which Speed has partnered with Global Media Services, is currently a pay-per-view application, costing from $2.99 to $5.99, but Mr. Annison reported that Speed is on the lookout for a sponsor that would allow the application to become free, dramatically increasing the number of users, the company hopes.
Speed is on the fast track in adopting an array of new digital distribution platforms. In addition to the PPV and two screens used by On-Board Pass, the network is making itself more accessible by exploiting video-on-demand, broadband, interactive television, Internet and mobile devices. “We want to be the destination point so when you think of racing and automotive lifestyle, you think of Speed,” said Mr. Annison. “Like ESPN or Fox is for stick-and-ball, our goal is to be the No. 1 destination for motorsports fans, enthusiasts and automotive lifestyle.”
The network’s first step was to revitalize its Web site as part of a major initiative by Speed’s parent company, News Corp., which developed Fox Interactive Media in 2005 with a hefty $1.5 billion investment for sports, gaming and community sites. The ultimate goal is to make SpeedTV.com the motorsports and auto enthusiast hub of the News Corp. online realm.
The redesigned site, which debuted in February, is the result of work by an in-house team and Web developer MindComet. New features include easier navigation, more news and commentary, lifestyle-oriented content and a new video player. “We’ll be pushing a lot more video through our portal,” Mr. Annison promised. For example, “Speed News”-weekend evening programs that wrap up race events-will be repurposed as two-minute online clips. And there will be original content, which adds even more value to the site.
“When we’re at an event and shooting it, we have our talent do a quick wrap-up for ‘Speed News,'” he explained. “They’ll do a quick highlight of the entire race in 30 seconds or a minute. If it’s long enough, we can repurpose it for SpeedTV.com. But if it’s too short, we’ll have them shoot a little longer, original piece. That will originate from every event we do.” Producers will provide clips for the Web site from some of the popular shows, such as “Pinks” and “Unique Whips,” to entice people to watch the shows and to provide more value to the Web site.
A new podcasting hub will also be part of SpeedTV.com. “This is really starting to explode,” said Mr. Annison, who added that the podcasts will be a collection of auto racing and car content. For racing updates and wrap-ups, Speed plans to aggregate content from its “Speed News” weekend program, as it will with other content on the linear channel, such as “Wind Tunnel.” Next up will be video podcasts, but footage rights to NASCAR races, for example, pose a potential roadblock. Speed doesn’t own the rights to some of the potential podcast video footage. The problem of how to replace that footage requires an out-of-the-box solution. “We’re still figuring it out,” Mr. Annison admitted.
Cellphones, PDAs and other mobile devices are a logical destination for Speed’s content, as evidenced by ESPN’s aggressive moves into the mobile market. Speed is working with two mobile initiatives. With Airborne Entertainment, it has created a direct-to-consumer storefront on SpeedTV.com where enthusiasts can buy ringtones, wallpaper and ringbacks of everything from revving muscle cars to speeding motorcycles. “It’s ‘Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines,'” Mr. Annison said. “You can personalize it to the nth degree.”
The second mobile deal is through Fox Interactive Media, which is negotiating video carriage deals on behalf of Speed. So far, Speed has inked carriage deals with Cingular and Amp’d Mobile.
Availability on a video storefront such as Apple’s iTunes or Google Video is another future move. “We’re in conversations with them,” Mr. Annison said. “And what we’ll do is something a little different from what’s on the linear network. Once you’re in the nonlinear environment, you’re not constrained to short clips.”
VOD is also a two-pronged offering: ad-supported and pay-per-view. Ad-supported Speed On Demand, currently sponsored by Castrol Motor Oil and Sears’ Craftsman tools, puts 20 hours of the channel’s offerings into 16 million U.S. and Canadian homes via cable operators Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and some Canadian systems. Highly rated shows that do well on the linear channel, such as “Pinks,” “American Muscle Car” and “American Thunder,” are available on VOD; also available are quick-turnaround products such as NASCAR races and highlights shows such as “Victory Lane” and “Beyond the Wheel.”
For even faster turnaround, SpeedOnDemand.com provides $1.99 pay-per-view, commercial-free offerings for a wide variety of races, including some that aren’t even shown on the channel-broadband video’s much-vaunted “sliver-casting” in action. “NASCAR programming has displaced other kinds of racing that people watched,” said Mr. Annison, who reported that “We’ll have 50 to 60 races up there. … These are those races.”
Speed has come up with an ingenious solution to make the most of content availability on multiple platforms. Its promotions department is busy creating a menu of icons, each one representing a platform. “If an ad for ‘Pinks’ is in a car magazine, the icons will show what platforms it’ll be available on,” said Mr. Annison.