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by the numbers, ll

otwa

by the numbers, ll

Mr. Clean breaks down the future of live sailboat racing coverage; for the people, by the people.

Mer and I are about to hit the road on a marathon road trip that’ll take in almost a dozen regattas over the next three months, and while she packs up two dogs, ten cameras, and a pile of electronics worth far more than the car, I have a few minutes to reflect on just how far On-The-Water Anarchy has come over the past four years.

We started our live coverage concept with a lot of enthusiasm and very little idea what to do with it.  We knew that our sport had a major exposure problem that was largely the result of the high cost of getting video action to the people.  We knew that regatta and industry sponsors had budgets that could only meet the costs of existing on-water coverage only in the rarest of cases.  And being gadget freaks fuelled by the knowledge on the Sailing Anarchy forums, we knew there was a better way.

Over those four years, we dragged the technology along with us, kicking and screaming, with the ultimate goal of live, streaming video coverage for any event that wanted it, at a cost they could afford.  And with the help of dozens of Anarchists, over 40 sponsors, regatta organizers all over the world, and an uncountable group of racers, boat owners, tender drivers, and IT geeks, we’ve finally figured out how to do it in a way that’s entertaining, engaging, accessible, and most importantly, that people are watching.

Our coverage of the Great Texas 300 last week drove this point home in a huge way, and not because it was some epic event; by all accounts, and as cool as the race is, the GT-300 is a tiny, niche event with just 11 teams racing a mix of old and new beach cats off a lonely Gulf Coast stretch of beach (and look for a full report from John Casey tomorrow).  But as obscure as the GT-300 is, circumstances conspired to drive more than 250,000 views of our live coverage of the race, and we are certain that it’s just a taste of things to come.  That’s almost fifty thousand more views than our America’s Cup coverage drew, and I’ve had people come up to me on three continents telling me how much they enjoyed that, so do the math.  According to our sources, it’s also an order of magnitude more viewers than watched the recent Audi Medcup coverage in Marseille or the Louis Vuitton Trophy in Sardinia, and our entire media budget was less than 1% of the production costs of these other events.

Why so popular?  We can only analyse so much, but we think a few key factors contributed to the size of our audience.  First, events of recent weeks have created buzz that led otherwise uninterested folks to the live stream: Mike Worrell’s recent death woke lots of cat sailors up to long distance beach cat racing, Abby Sunderland’s fiasco created some serious search-term synergy for sailing rescues, and the event itself saw two dramatic rescues (including one helicopter) on the first night, sending scads of East Texas locals to the event site and on to the big banner at the top of that site that screamed "watch live racing here".  Second, social networking has matured in a frighteningly effective way, and our own team’s viral marketing along with the electronic word-of-mouth from the teams, their friends and families, and the cat community paid huge dividends in terms of viewership.  Third, our live streaming partner Justin.TV has a huge viewership of their own, and their new platform is extremely effective at driving possible fans of sailing to our broadcast, while JTV’s ability to stream via iPhone and iPad turned out to be pretty awesome.  Fourth, OTWA now has a dedicated following of desk-bound sailors who will take any opportunity to watch entertaining productions of live sailboat racing whenever possible, and the GT-300 is a weekday-only race.  I know if I still worked in an office, I would too.  Fifth, we make sure that someone is monitoring the chat room inside the broadcast to ensure that it remains almost as interactive as the SA forums, only quicker.  And finally, we rely on the power of SA to drive the largest majority of spectators to the coverage – a huge percentage of English (and Italian) speaking sailboat racers read SA at least once a week, creating an instant marketing opportunity that gets people to click over for a look.

I think all the above reasons played a part in getting the kind of numbers we did for the GT-300, but the most important factor in overall numbers is the quality of the stream itself.  Not the quality of the video – we’re still limited to fairly low-res stuff in areas of poor cell coverage, though image quality is getting better every day as networks build up in preparation for the new 4G systems coming on line. No, I’m talking about the entertainment value of the production, because after all, if it doesn’t keep the audience entertained, they won’t stay for long.  And in order to ensure that OTWA is fun to watch, we’ve built a team of knowledgeable, entertaining young people that know how to keep an audience engaged.  Sometimes we need to pan to hot chicks in bikinis when the racing action gets soft, sometimes we tell funny stories about the racers, and sometimes we pound vodka and start ripping on our own crew on camera, but above all else, we try to keep our broadcasts light and fun without dumbing them down for some phantom nonsailing viewer.  By toeing that line, we get not only hardcore sailors, but nonsailors as well who get to learn as they laugh.  And all along, we’ve listened to your comments and suggestions, and encourage you to post them or keep sending them in.

The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear SA
So that’s how things are going over here on the water, and while the GT-300 numbers may have been a fluke, the international viewer stats indicate that the interest in OTWA’s live sailing streams will continue to grow, Abby or no Abby.  And if you’re one of the folks who watched it, and especially one who helped make it richer by posting in our live chat room, we thank you sincerely. 

For existing fans and those who’d like to check us out, below is a tentative partial schedule for the rest of our road trip, and if you are already an event sponsor or would like to be an OTWA sponsor, let us know right away – you won’t regret it.  We have some extremely fun events on the horizon, some new faces to bring to the OTWA staff, and some new tech goodies to make it even better; we’re just no good at standing still.

  • June 25-27: Layline/Oakcliff Sailing Melges 24 Nationals/Melges 32 Northeast Champs (Newport, RI)
  • July 10-14th: Route Halifax-St.Pierre (Halifax, Canada)
  • July 15-18: Extreme 40 World Championship (Porotorž, Slovenia)
  • July 22-25: Melges 20 Gold Cup (Riva Del Garda, Italy)
  • August 18-22: Toyota Detroit Cup (Detroit, MI)
  • August 22-28: Little America’s Cup (Newport, RI)
  • September 10-13: Big Boat Series (SF, CA)
  • September 13-17: A-Class Catamaran North Americans (North Cape, MI)
  • September 22-25: Melges 32 Worlds (San Francisco, CA)
  • September 24-26: Sailing Anarchy Sportboat Worlds  (Coronado, CA)

And winter starts with maybe our biggest coverage yet – the 2010 Sydney-Hobart, and then the 2011 Moth Worlds in Belmont, Australia.  As our friend Brad Van Liew says, "Full noise or no noise!"