Discovery Communications Inc’s European sports broadcaster, Eurosport, is talking with potential partners to bring drone racing to their audience. This will make them the latest network among numerous others aiming to dip their toes into the waters of the high-speed remote-controlled aircraft. ESPN, Britain’s Sky, and Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1 have all recently signed on to broadcast the five races (plus some extra content) of the Drone Racing League (the DRL). Not only that, but the DRL has also partnered with MGM television to create a reality series about the pilots, an effective method to help popularize them for the viewing audience.
“We think it’s an area worth us paying attention to and to test on audiences,” Peter Hutton, chief executive of Eurosport, said.
However, even with all the extra attention on the sport, it still isn’t clear whether or not it will become a big money-maker for the networks. Even ESPN, who have been interested in bringing the sport to their screens for awhile now, still wasn’t incredibly confident with its potential. Instead of paying for the rights to broadcast the races, they are sharing ad revenue. This places the DRL and other drone racing leagues / competitions on shakier ground to “make it” amongst the rest of the sports. From this point on (and arguably from before this point as well), it’s going to be an uphill battle to get enough people to watch the series, as most viewers of a sports channel like ESPN probably haven’t even heard of drone racing.
Another factor that can inhibit the sport from catching on is the tape delay. On one hand, it does let the crew edit and cut together a compelling event for viewers, but there is an entirely different feel when you are watching something live (like a Thursday night football game) versus something that was undoubtedly prerecorded. As of right now, it is almost certainly a better thing for the sport that the video is being edited together and being cut down to fit an hour-long slot, but as the sport gains popularity, revisiting the formula and finding ways for fans to enjoy watching live might need to be looked into.
The DRL’s Nick Horbaczewski said presenting races in a more produced format is the best way to attract new fans, and that live races are not vital. “There are a lot of sports that don’t go live off the bat,” he said. “Look at professional poker.”
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