This is part two of a three-part series exploring Zwift racing’s challenges and opportunities. Part one focused on spectating, and many of the topics in that post would fit into this post as well. (I didn’t include them though, for brevity’s sake, so be sure to read part one for a fuller picture.)
Today we will focus on broadcasting Zwift races. What’s working, what isn’t, and how do we fix it?
Challenge: Who Pays for This?
With virtual bike racing in its infancy, finding any sort of funding/sponsors for streams will be difficult. And while streams may not need loads of money to operate, paying the commentators for their time and equipment is a must if this is going to be sustainable.
Streamers will have to make a case with hard numbers if they want to see dollars. How many eyeballs can virtual race streams attract? Zwift’s first round of their recent KISS Super League series say 40,000 viewers within the first few days… that’s a start!
Opportunity: Low Cost of Entry
Even though virtual race streaming is in its early days, indoor bike brands would be smart to jump on board and sponsor race streams if the price is right. And the price should be right, given the comparatively low cost of entry for streaming Zwift races.
The cost of putting together a Zwift race broadcast is infinitesimally small compared to broadcasting an outdoor race. Meatspace races require helicopters, radio planes, motos, a commentary box, and the technology to link it all. A basic Zwift race broadcast could be handled by a single producer and commentator if the proper tools were in place. Add another commentator to bring it up to typical UCI race commentary standards and you’ve got an entertaining race broadcast for a small fraction of what is paid for outdoor races.
Challenge: A Lack of Tools
Today’s Zwift broadcasts are just a shadow of what they could be. With no dedicated broadcast client, commentators must use the same game interface that Zwifters use when they ride. While this works decently well, problems arise:
- Internet drops on a racer’s side may cause the camera to suddenly switch to another rider on course
- Screen HUD elements, optimized for individual rider viewing, don’t display the information spectators want to see
- Camera angles are not always ideal
- Slow motion replays, essential for close finishes, require external “hacks”
Opportunity: Lots of Rider Metrics
Zwift puts bio-metrics at our fingertips that outdoor race spectators can only dream of. In a virtual race we can see a riders’ speed, power, current heart rate, and even dig into their real-time metrics like best 5-minute power if we’re creative enough and know our way around ZwiftPower.com. Velon has been experimenting with some of this data in their outdoor Hammer Series, but after two seasons of development it’s nowhere near what we already have on Zwift. While it may not be presented perfectly in Zwift broadcasts, we already have more information on racer’s efforts than we ever get outside.
We need just a better way to display all this data. Ideally, Zwift would create some sort of “broadcast client” version of the game optimized for broadcasters and showing information like:
- Time gaps between race packs
- Live video of actual riders
- An indication of which pack we’re currently looking at
- Distance left in the race
Much more could be shown, such as additional screens of useful power metrics. The sky’s the limit here.
Challenge: Getting the Word Out
There is no central place to go if you want to watch a Zwift race, no place to find a schedule of upcoming events, no massive archive of past race streams.
This needs to change.
As long as races are hard to find, viewer interest will appear artificially low.
Opportunity: Stream Free, Link Up Companion
Streaming can happen through a variety of services, but most commonly happens on Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, and Mixer. The beautiful thing is, broadcasters can stream on any or all of these services, free. The services provide steady, optimized platforms for mobile and desktop viewing, leaving the broadcasters to focus on creating quality content.
But how do you publicize your streaming? The Companion app seems the logical place to make this work. Let race organizers put stream URLs into event descriptions, and have the Companion app show links to live races.
Challenge: Knowing the Riders
Zwift race broadcasting is like a box of chocolate: you never know who you’re gonna get.
Unlike pro outdoor races, Zwift races can have just about anyone show up. Broadcasters can’t have a quick sheet of key facts for each rider figured out beforehand, and this becomes obvious when you listen to some Zwift race broadcasts. “Rider X is off the front attacking now… who is Rider X? Does anyone in chat know this guy?”
Some of this could be fixed with a better broadcast client–one that (perhaps) easily links to a rider’s race history and power metrics. But there’s more that could be done to help broadcasters better know their racers…
Opportunity: Exclusive Races
We’re already seeing this with KISS Super League, where not just anybody can race. This lets broadcasters get to know a short list of riders, which improves their commentary immensely.
While Zwift is all about being inclusive (and rightly so), there is room for some exclusive races which are limited in field size and require pre-qualification. We’ve already seen some of this, and we’ll need to see even more if we want broadcasters to be able to consistently help viewers connect to racers.
Zwift racing is still in its infancy, and Zwift race broadcasting is even younger still. This is obvious when you watch most race streams, which are typically not much more than a voice on top of someone clicking around inside the Zwift software.
But there is big potential here, if Zwift can give broadcasters improved client tools and broadcasters can put in the work to make the experience one that truly connects viewers to racers. It’s going to happen… it’s already happening to some extent. Watching this season’s KISS Super League stages we can clearly see Zwift working to improve the broadcast each and every stage, and if that focus continues we may see some top-notch broadcasting by the end of 2019.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the challenges and opportunities Zwift racing holds for broadcasters today. Share below!