You won’t find this in your TV guide. It barely got mentioned on the national news that I heard this morning. You may not know it, but the U.S. challenger, BMW Oracle Racing, won the America’s Cup back from the Swiss defender yesterday by winning the second race in a best-best-of-three competition. Oh, this is about sailing, by the way.
So why am I mentioning it here? I’m a fan of sailing, and there’s not a lot of coverage of sailing events on broadcast television, even on cable or satellite stations. In this case, each day of racing took four or five hours of coverage. The event was held in Valencia, Spain, on the Mediterranean, so the start times were around 6 AM Eastern and 3 AM Pacific. This is hardly the prime time where a network would want to launch expensive coverage. The problem was made worse by the fact that on the first two days scheduled for racing — last Monday and Wednesday — nothing happened. No race. (There was too little wind on Monday, and too much on Wednesday.) How would a major network deal with an event like this that doesn’t even do anything the first two days? Who’s going to come back on the third day, and how do you fill the missing time? And will you be able to clear the schedule for additional coverage on subsequent days? Keep in mind that the whole thing could have been over on the second day, but in fact it hadn’t even started then.
Thanks to ESPN360, however, there was professional coverage start to finish of the whole event. They had expert commentators, cameras on the water and in two helicopters, and some very slick computer graphics with instantaneous speed and leader advantage data (much like you get now for car racing coverage). Under normal circumstances, it’s hard to see which boat is actually in the lead at times. With this coverage, you could see which boat was faster second by second. It added to the excitement of the event.
And I could watch it for free online, whenever I wanted. I started watching yesterday while the race was still going on, but I was able to quickly rewind to the beginning and watch without knowing the final outcome. And watching it in full screen on my HDTV greatly enhanced the experience.
Now, no broadcast network would give up the time for an event like this, yet ESPN was able to make it available on the Internet. Even though the target audience was tiny compared with other sporting events, they were able to assign the resources to provide the coverage. The Internet makes it possible to reach a group of viewers with a narrow interest like this, which in turn provides advertisers with laser-focused access to their market. This sort of “narrow-casting” is an important part of the future of video on the Internet.