- Title: Drone racing set to hit the mainstream with new TV deal
- Date: 3rd October 2016
- Summary: NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (RECENT-SEPTEMBER 30, 2016) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) FOUNDER AND CEO OF DRL, NICK HORBACZEWSKI, SAYING: "So here at the Drone Racing League we use all proprietary technology. Every pilot flies our drone, which is called the Racer2. So, everybody's using an identical drone which allows us to say that when a pilot wins a race we know it was piloting skill and not technology that let them win. We also use our own proprietary radio frequency system which allows us to race large, complex three dimensional spaces indoors. The pilots are selected based on their shown ability with drones. So, we have pilots submit videos to us. Sometimes we reach out to pilots that we've heard about in the community, and we check their skills, and then we bring them in. One of the challenging things about starting a new sports league is that there's no proving ground, there's no AAA league, so we bring in pilots that have exceptional abilities with drones and then we test them in the crucible of competition and sometimes they're incredible and sometimes, you know, the bright lights come on and the pressure happens and they crack. So, it's been an interesting year to see who is not only an amazing drone pilot, but who is a true performance athlete."
- Embargoed: 18th October 2016 23:20
- Keywords: drone racing drones Drone Racing League tv distribution Eurosport Sky Sports ESPN
- Location: NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES / UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION
- City: NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES / UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION
- Country: USA
- Topics: Sport
- Reuters ID: LVA00452L8AIN
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: The competitive racing of drones is set to hit the mainstream this month after international sports broadcasters sign a deal with a fledging startup.
"October's going to be a really exciting time for DRL. We're going to begin airing our sports content with our global distribution partners ESPN, Sky Sports and ProSieben. It's going to be the first chance for an audience around the world to actually see competitive drone racing on TV," explained Nick Horbaczewski, CEO and founder of the Drone Racing League, or DRL.
The broadcasters will air a circuit of five DRL races from North America in October and November with the final race being a described as a championship. The multiyear deal with broadcasters includes a series of races next year with an expansion to include a race in London and another in Germany.
Eurosport, Discovery Communications' European sports broadcaster, is also in talks with to broadcast drone racing, making it the latest network looking to experiment with the fledgling sport in which contestants navigate drones at high speeds through aerial obstacle courses.
Eurosport would join ESPN, British broadcaster Sky Plc, and Germany's ProSiebenSat1 which last month signed on to broadcast a series of races by the 15 month-old Drone Racing League. Sky also agreed to invest $1 million in the league.
We just announced recently that we completed our first full round of financing, which was over $12 million in financing that included exceptional partners like Sky Sports and ProSieben, in addition to other people like MGM, Hearst and other media and technology partners," added Horbaczewski.
Eurosport, a pan-European sports media group that Discovery bought last year, has 228 million subscribers in 93 countries in Europe, Asia and Australia. Discovery last year won the exclusive European broadcast rights to air the Summer and Winter Olympic Games through 2024 on Eurosport.
For television networks and advertisers, drone racing represents an opportunity to combine the live-event attraction of Nascar and Formula One with the digital-age appeal of e-gaming, in which video game players compete while millions of viewers watch online usually for free.
While media and advertising executives said they have high hopes for drone racing, whether the sport can grow beyond its current niche and become a meaningful revenue stream for broadcasters is an open question.
"People describe drone racing as all kinds of things. They call it pod-racing, from Star Wars. They call it the real life video game. And, I think it speaks to the fact that drone racing isn't just one thing. I do think drone racing can be considered an evolution of e-sports," Horbaczewski said.
"It has similar dynamics to e-sports but it's broken through the screen and it's in the real world. There's an actual drone flying at 90 mph down a hallway clipping a wall and exploding into a million pieces. At the same time, it is another form of racing and it is its own free standing sport that evolved and went global on its own. It didn't come out of the video gaming space. So, I think it's equally valid that it's just a new form of racing that has evolved. It happens to have similar dynamics to video games."
One factor that could limit the sport's appeal is that most drone racing on TV has been shown on a tape delay, after being aired live online, to allow for editing to capture the most compelling visuals. The races, where small drones fly around courses in empty warehouses, stadiums and other venues, can be hard to follow for viewers watching live.
Since a key attraction for most sports programming is that the contests are broadcast live, it remains to be seen whether large numbers of fans will want to watch races after the fact.
The sport's boosters say it's only a matter of time until the networks and leagues - there are now a handful of competing drone racing leagues in the United States and Europe and Asia - figure out how to effectively air the races live.
"There are two major challenges to making drone racing a spectator sport. The first is the technology which is why DRL uses all proprietary technology: our own drone and our own radio system. The other big challenge is it's just very hard to film them. These things are the size of a dinner plate and they go 80 mph (130 kph)," said Horbaczweski.
"It took us the better part of a year of experimentation and technology development to get the right know how and the right equipment to film the drones in a compelling way. But now that we have, it's fantastic because the racing is exciting, you can follow the action - who's winning, who's losing, you see the crashes - so, it's very exciting. It just was a huge challenge to figure it out."
So far, the TV audience for drone races has been small. Only 223,000 people watched live or within seven days the U.S. Drone Racing Nationals, an amateur drone race held in New York City, broadcast Sept 18 on ESPN, according to Nielsen. That's tiny compared to the 13 million viewers on average that watched a Monday night football game last season, but is in line with the 264,000 viewers on average who tuned into an episode of Turner Sports' first season of ELeague's e-gaming competition last summer.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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