The internet is filled with self-appointed television executives that nearly continuously try to analyze 12+ overnight television estimates from Nielsen, and almost always reach a conclusion that any and all of these overnight estimates portend certain doom for IndyCar. Never mind that not one of them has ever actually seen numbers used in the actual commerce of television advertising sales, and if they had would not be able to formulate one coherent thought about their application in the real world.
While their approach remains comical as they openly and repeatedly make fools of themselves the one point that has merit is that over-the-air television ratings are lower than they were twenty years ago. This is often positioned by the ignorant as somehow unique to IndyCar. Again, laughter ensues. The real question that should be asked involves how much time and effort should be specifically focused on increasing ratings on ABC and NBCSN. My insider opinion is that they could assemble a team of the most knowledgeable television folks on earth to do nothing but make ratings go up and the numbers would stay about where they are.
Television ratings will not increase because an organization specifically sets out to get them to rise. We have already seen the hocus pocus happy talk about compressed schedules and time slots, and despite self-congratulatory back pats by those who believed their actions correlated directly into slightly higher numbers the approach remains shortsighted. The ITEs will drone on obsessively refuting increases; e.g., NBCSN has more households now, etc., but they always miss the point anyway.
I envision IMS doing three things that will cause over-the-air television ratings to grow organically without specific focus on ratings:
- Figure out a way to make the cast of characters and the cars they drive more interesting to the casual public. IndyCar personalities have been sanitized to white bread levels. The cars, other than paint jobs and two engine badges, are identical. And there are far too few of them. Leverage any/all of the good ideas that exist to broaden those horizons. When Formula E goes belly up acquire those assets and run it as a support series at every IndyCar event.
- Take the Indianapolis or Long Beach experience to every venue at which IndyCar runs. Having attended many races again this year the most accurate words that can be used to describe IndyCars outside Indy are underwhelming and uninspired, and embarrassingly so. The 500 mile races at Pocono and Fontana were particularly egregious in the ‘phone it in’ department. Promote THREE distinct ‘triple crowns.’ $3 million for a single winner of Indy, Pocono and Fontana (the ‘500 mile’ triple crown). $3 million for a single winner of Long Beach, Texas and either Barber or Mid-Ohio (the ‘diversity’ triple crown) and $3 million for a single winner of three foreign events (the ‘worldwide’ triple crown). It is far easier to work toward filling up seats at tracks than setting out to get television ratings to rise. Filling up the seats means more interest at the fan level, and more interest at the fan level leads to higher television ratings.
- IMS/IndyCar is sitting on over a century of the recorded history of the sport. Rather than allowing video and audio content to decompose in vaults why not monetize and exploit it? IMS Productions has done great work in the past. Creative minds should be able to craft and package a century of content into enough content to support a channel.
IndyCar should start its own network. Not an over-the-air network. An over-the-top network that leverages the length and breadth of all digital platforms, from Kindles to gaming systems. The OTT network should be subscriber based with limited free content as promotion. If only diehards paid $6.95 per month the 100,000 who would subscribe would gross $8,340,000.00 annually. Imagine driving subscription numbers to 200,000, half a million or even a million over time. Add in revenue from ad sales and merchandising and goals of 15 to 20 million within a few years is possible, particularly given availability across the globe. It is doubtful selling DVDs in the gift shop or online comes close to that number, and an IndyCar TV network could serve as an effective storefront.
Mark Miles and cronies should drop in on the WWE folks in Stamford for inspiration. WWE, led by Vince McMahon, has acquired virtually the entire recorded history of professional wrestling in America. Their own OTT network features all live events across the country as well as carefully packaged and themed recorded content. The ITEs will no doubt stumble over themselves to point out that WWE’s OTT network is losing money, which misses the point as usual. IndyCar demographics are different than those of the WWE, and IndyCar still has two national television deals.
Programming an IndyCar channel with themed and packaged programming gleaned from the vaults along with live events, re-airs, retrospectives, highlight shows, new shows featuring personalities, technical aspects, etc., would be cost-effective (they already have the infrastructure) and a great way to grow the sport. An ‘Indy 500 Of The Day’ program would not have to be repeated for months. Add the capability for subscribers to access on demand content and ‘IndyCar TV’ becomes a worthwhile venture.
The entire point is getting the content out there. Content availability means potential eyeballs, and eyeballs equal new fans. Getting them to pay attention to the sport and attend the races means television ratings will rise on their own with minimal effort. The past can be the gateway to the future, and the future should be embraced.