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USTA Broadcasting Committee Meets

Published: February 18, 2015 12:37 pm ET

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The USTA Broadcast Committee met via conference call on Wednesday (February 11) to consider future television and other broadcast options for the harness racing industry.

Formerly known as the Television Committee, the members voted to change the name to the USTA Broadcast Committee to more accurately describe the multiple options that are being considered for both traditional TV as well as new technology platforms for delivering video.

“The Broadcast Committee was presented extensive information on traditional television along with alternative broadcasting technology options that are available now and growing faster and faster every day,” said USTA President Phil Langley. “The committee is considering a long-range plan with an eye to the future, utilizing multiple platforms that can have the ability to sustain its own funding and possibly produce revenue that could be used to market our sport.”

In addition, the committee agreed to define its mission more clearly, identify short and long-term goals, and assign definitive responsibilities to committee members. A subcommittee was created to determine criteria for USTA financial support requests to assist in the funding of television broadcasts.

First up on the agenda was a proposal from USTA Director Chris Schick to increase the USTA budget for support to racetracks and the Hambletonian Society for traditional television from $50,000 to $150,000 for 2015.

After considerable discussion about the costs of buying time and production as well as viewership numbers for horse racing and other sports on network and cable TV, the committee agreed to submit the proposal for consideration at the annual USTA Board of Directors meeting next month. In 2014, the Meadowlands Pace, Hambletonian and Little Brown Jug were televised by CBS Sports Network.

Information on two online, subscription platforms, the Roberts Communications’ Q Racing Live and the WWE Network, were presented and discussed.

Q Racing Live is the American Quarter Horse Association’s online programming that delivers every Quarter Horse race in the United States via computer and mobile devices for a monthly fee that is producing revenue for that association. The committee was informed about multiple discussions over the past few months between the USTA and Roberts Communications to develop a similar platform for harness racing with the capability of delivering live racing, a replay archive, and the possibility of adding live programming and video on demand.

Similarly, the WWE Network is a monthly, online subscription service that was created less than a year ago to replace wrestling’s expensive cable pay-per-view format. The platform has been a huge success with more than 1 million subscribers signing up in the first 11 months. During that time, the WWE has doubled their broadcast revenues.

The committee was presented with recent marketing research, conducted separately by both the USTA and their social media agency Converseon, that indicated that more than 60 per cent of respondents said that they would be willing to pay $10 per month for a harness racing service similar to Q Racing Live and the WWE Network.

Extensive research on horse racing TV ratings, broadcast and viewership trends, how other sports and networks are utilizing new technology, and the importance of integrating social media into marketing efforts were distributed and discussed.

Some of the highlights included:

Horse racing TV ratings
• Races leading up to the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic on NBC Sports Network averaged 376,000 viewers
• In 2014, the Jockey Club Tour on Fox averaged 123,000 viewers
• CBS Sports Network is not a part of the Nielsen ratings and cannot provide viewership numbers

Viewership Trends
• TV viewership is shifting from cable to digital, over-the-top services, game consoles and online video
• Broadband customers (50 million) recently surpassed the number of cable subscribers in the U.S.
• In 2Q of 2014, digital viewing increased 28 per cent, mobile phone video viewers increased 93 per cent
• During the past decade, cable providers have added more than 30 million broadband subscribers
• One in four millennials have ‘cut the cord’ to cable TV or never had it, and only 40 per cent of those between the ages 18-34 watch linear (traditional) TV
• 10 million U.S. homes have internet but no cable and that number is growing

Network Live Streaming and Apps
• CBS, HBO, ESPN, CNN and other networks have all created online, live streaming platforms
• Services like Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Apple TV and Sling TV are replacing traditional cable TV
• NBC streamed 11 hours of live programming for the 2015 Super Bowl and created Tumblr page for ads
• NBC Sports Live App was downloaded by 500,000 people during this year’s Super Bowl
• FOX Sports Go App live streams New York MLS team and Big East Conference games
• Watch ESPN live streams TV channels and, in 2015, the NFL Pro Bowl Game
• ESPN recently agreed to a partnership with Snapchat with an estimated 100 million monthly active users

Other Sports
• The Tennis Channel recently joined Apple TV
• The 2015 Cricket World Cup will be available by subscription through ESPN
• The Big East Conference recently launched a digital channel on FOX
• The 2015 Rugby World Cup has created a mobile App to broadcast all games for free
• Major League Baseball streamed all 2014 post-season games live on FOX

Finally, the committee discussed the importance of integrating social media to promote harness racing and its broadcasts.

National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman was cited from a recent USA Today story where he stated, “NHL growth has been driven by digital and social media…We’re growing season by season with record engagement, record attendance, record revenue. We think the digital space is responsible for that.”

The story indicated that social media helped the league’s broadcasts set viewership records on NBC and NBC Sports Network with a 12 per cent increase and 532,000 average viewers during the 2013-2014 season.

The members of the committee, chaired by Dan Leary from the USTA, are: Ivan Axelrod, Phil Langley and Mike Tanner (USTA), Alex Dadoyan (SOANY), Kevin Decker (The Meadows), Moira Fanning (Hambletonian Society), Sam McKee (Meadowlands), Chris Schick (Cal Expo) and Tom Wright (Little Brown Jug).


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