Brainstorming: The Live TV/Internet Product

By David Zehr

Hello followers! Some of you may know me as DZ, or @groundedeffects on twitter or by my blog of the same name, or perhaps you caught me on video last September doing a guest spot on "One Take Only" right here on this site.

For those that don’t know me, I started with my Groundedeffects blog back in September of 2009 and became active on twitter after my first ‘tweet-up’ at the Chicagoland race in 2010. That day I met several people who are quite active on social media to this day. Some I’ve spoken to in person; some just this past weekend in Milwaukee.

For those who’ve read my blog, you know my blog stays away from the immediacy of current statistics and event discussion and ranges among all sorts of wide-angle topics relating to the past, present, and future of IndyCar racing. My thoughts aim for more of a broad view, less concerned with the vast bits of minutia and details that always seem to gum up the decision-making works, so I was quite happy to be invited to participate in the Brainstorming Series here at

Much as Paul noted last week, and perhaps for most all IndyCar fans, there was a specific date when my perception of IndyCar changed.

Having watched on TV for a few years, my father took me to the Indy 500 on May 27, 1979. Sitting in the front row of (long gone) the L-South Stand at the end of the backstretch, I was a mere 18 feet from the outside track wall, right at the point where the cars swung out to begin their turn into 3. The sensations from the first 20 laps of that race are still as fresh in my brain as they were over 36 years ago. That was my moment. I was instantly and forever hooked.

We returned in 1980, but I missed after that until I purchased tickets on my own in 1988 and ever since. As exciting as the race was presented on TV (in it’s tape-delayed and edited-for-time goodness), it never compared to that live experience.

Following up with thoughts on my site from yesterday, I was thinking about how the product of IndyCar is currently consumed by fans both in-person and via TV. Doing some rare live, on-site tweeting during Sunday’s race in Milwaukee, I was struck how easily I could tell who was watching on TV as who was present based on their responses. That experience leads me to consider how the good the product is in-person and how it needs to be better translated to those not on-site.

Firstly, I’ll examine the most recent form of live coverage – the IndyCar 15 mobile app. I am a Verizon Wireless customer and do have a substantial data plan through my business, so I am in the fortunate position of being able to consume this product essentially at will. I am not only impressed by the in-car camera options it provides during the race, but also very impressed with the spate of features and the data presented as well. I did open this up while at the Milwaukee Mile and not knowing the least bit about how it works, I can tell you that the data coming through my phone was only at most 1 second behind the live event. I will definitely use this app more when not on-site and especially when TV goes to side-by-side or full commercials.

Oh yes. Television. How long have you and IndyCar known each other? 50 years or so? Seems like a very long time.

If you’ve ever been even somewhat close to these cars at speed, you know how it really doesn’t translate to TV very well. AT ALL. When I stop for a moment and consider it, I actually can’t think of a worse way to watch something that’s so impressive in person. I guess the TV coverage is what we had when we couldn’t make it to the venue. Now, it’s the primary way to receive the product for the vast majority of fans. This is also true with most any sport these days. The days of buying a ticket to see the latest amazing thing in town seems essentially gone with the massive expansion of available channels and the use of live TV coverage so prevalent today, watering down an already diluted market for content.

On the business side, TV ratings still determine relative popularity to those who purchase ad slots and make major marketing decisions with where to place their product. Those are the people for whom the rubber meets the road quite literally when it comes to examining IndyCar’s TV ratings.

As a fan, my issue with TV coverage has always been how to bring the incredible sensory experience to people who can’t be at the venue. In-car cameras in the early-1990s made a great leap forward in presenting the view from the cockpit, but aside from the evolution of computer graphics enhancing the on-screen product and the advent of High-Definition, there has been no change in the format or the cinematography of IndyCar since the 1970s.

I would love to brainstorm some ideas regarding the coverage of the visual sensation of seeing an IndyCar at speed. I see a definite opportunity for IndyCar to set itself apart from the old and rather staid decades-old coverage with wide-angle cameras shooting from high vantage points in the venue, essentially neutering the vitality of the sensory experience for the viewer. I realize there are massive hardware and infrastructure issues to contend with, but this, again, is why we’re Brainstorming…

1. Continue to experiment with the on-car camera options. Seeing things from a driver’s perspective adds to the event. If, by switching to an in-car camera, we could also see the live streaming of the steering, pedals, engine rpm, etc., that we see on the IndyCar 15 app, this would enhance greatly my viewing pleasure.

2. Invert the traditional camera angles. I propose we use primarily low-level and close proximity cameras on ovals to capture the beautiful speed of the cars and use higher-level wider-angles on the road and streets. Seeing more than just a portion of a corner on a road course would allow the viewer to see more of what constitutes the racecraft involved. Conversely, ovals are more about the maintenance of momentum and speed. The faster, the better. Lower angles would

3. Keep visual graphics to an absolute minimum, and more clearly provide essentially visual information. The production for F1 telecasts is superb in this way. Clean and neat and informative, not garish and attention-seeking. The more they encroach into the frame, the wider the camera angle also has to become, making the action seem even farther away. I’d even propose the track-and-dots graphic for reviewing the field at regular intervals instead of a constant scroll of numbers that always seems to not be in the field where I want to see. Maybe I WAS too hasty in poo-pooing the idea of having those informative graphics come from the actual car itself as was proposed with the Swift lights chassis idea?

How can IndyCar become innovative in the visual coverage of its racing?

Can IndyCar enhance its image by innovating and becoming a new standard for covering auto-racing visually?

What can this sport do to better translate the sensations of being at the track?

What are your thoughts?

19 Responses to “Brainstorming: The Live TV/Internet Product”

  1. I wish TV would show the whole oval more often, especially on small ovals like MKE and IA. Pull out and give us at least half an oval view and that communicates that there is action all over the track by mid-race. When I watch an oval in person, I usually don’t just stay glued to the leaders. You watch battles throughout the field and maybe watch your fav driver for a while. Pull back from the leaders and show us the whole thing now and then.

    • DZ-groundedeffects Says:

      Very true. In MIL, there was action all over the track. I followed some mid-pack racing for several laps where the front-starting cars not hooked-up are being passed by the hooked-up cars who started farther back. Gabby Chaves had a great initial set of laps which I’m not sure was seen on TV or not.

    • DZ-groundedeffects Says:

      maybe simply switching between the speed angle and more of the field instead of one shot that tries to do it all and does neither very well.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I agree Bill. When I am at the Milwaukee Mile, being able to easily see the entire track, I can track someone coming up fast through the field and follow that driver as he or she picks off cars. DZ did not get into internet connected TV specifically, but back when IndyCar was streaming races a viewer had a choice of picking an in-car camera or watching a wider view. You could switch back and forth at will. You could even watch the driver working the pedals on a non-oval. I sometimes found that more enjoyable than watching the TV broadcast.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    I’m not sure I know enough about broadcasting to come up with any truly new ideas, but this does remind me of some things from the recent past that seem to have fallen by the wayside.

    One is the static camera placed just on top of the wall, like the classic “flower box” camera at Indy. This angle is, perhaps, the closest television comes to capturing the sensation of sitting low at the track. Obviously, the flower box camera is still in use, but it has been my observation that it has not been used nearly as often in recent years as it had been in the past. It is also typically placed at the outside of the exit of an oval turn, I assume to capture as much track as possible for an unmovable camera. Perhaps it would better capture the speed of the cars with these cameras at the end of a straight, in the infield, at track level, or, for road and streets, at the end of a fast chicane.

    Another thing I miss, and I’m going back to the old Speed Channel Champcar broadcasts here, is the “Sounds of Speed” or “Crank It Up” as Fox still calls it on their NASCAR broadcasts. The race status and discussion of the drivers is obviously important in any race broadcast, but taking a few laps at least twice a race to let the cars and their engines be the unquestioned stars of the show is something that helps narrow that gap between the live and televised experiences as much as anything. Perhaps FOX owns the rights to this concept, however that works, and it cannot be employed elsewhere. I would love to see it on an Indycar broadcast, though.

  3. One thing I think broadcasts need are actual speed comparisons. Look, IndyCar broadcasted its first live Indianapolis 500 in what, 1986? NASCAR has had their 36 race season live on TV since the late ’80s and the shot from inside a car going by a wall and a grandstand real fast has become like a red brick wall became for comedians; instant channel change for a passive or non fan. My brainstorm involves IndyCar renting one of Foyt’s stock cars devoid of color/sponsors/numbers (so NASCAR can’t claim copyright infringement) and filming it at speed on every track for a few laps. Get a F1 car and do the same, then get a couple of street cars and do the same. Take that footage and create segments (and commercials for TV) where the production crew superimposes one of the above cars side by side with an IndyCar for a couple of laps on the same track and actually SHOW PEOPLE the huge difference in speed! Seeing a grandstand go by is old hat but if we can get the word (and visuals) out about how fast our cars truly are it might help?

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Very interesting idea. I have seen something similar done with race cars of the same series. Perhaps you have seen this done with slalom skiers during the winter olympics when the live skier is shown skiing alongside a ghost image of the leader. I’m willing to loan my Chrysler Town and Country.

  4. ecurie415 Says:

    Compare the broadcast quality of an F1 race on NBCSN to that of an IndyCar race. The number of camera angles and overall quality is due, in large part, to the technology used in the broadcast. IMS Productions (the company that shoots for NBC’s IndyCar races) should consider more HD cameras in more places, including more robotic cameras for hard-to-reach spots. Every F1 car on the grid has five on-board cameras, for example.

    • Randy Bernard was very clear that the cost of producing the broadcasts easily outweighed the payment the series received from the network for the rights for the race.

      Money needs to go into cars and drivers, not into the broadcast.

      • ecurie415 Says:

        Better broadcasts should equal more viewers. More viewers = more money from sponsors = more money to the teams. As to RB, not sure what I would say to him if he was spending more to make the product than he charged the public to buy it.

        • It wasn’t Bernard who agreed to a contract that required Indycar to produce the broadcasts and paid too little in return.

          Lets apply some numbers to your this equals that:

          Will an additional spend of $100,000 result in enough additional viewers to cause sponsors to spend an additional $100,000 on team sponsorships? How do you know that?

          What is the breakeven point on spending more money on graphics and camera views?

  5. HB Donnelly Says:

    One issue with conveying the sense of speed is that Indycar’s camera operators are so good that they keep the car basically static in the frame. Lock the Turn 1 or 3 camera at Indianapolis in place, and you suddenly realize how quickly the thing is approaching on the straight. “Billytheskink” has the right idea with putting a static shot on the wall on the straights — my favorite seat ever at The 500 was front row at the entrance to Turn 1: cars come straight at you for 9 seconds, weaving around each other, then suddenly dive to the right (their left)….pretty exhilarating!

    One thing I would like to see LESS of is the pit stops; look back at Milwaukee or others…sometimes we end up so focused on EVERONE’S pit stops that we miss important on-track action amongst leaders.

  6. The first thing that came to my mind when David Zehr was talking about camera angles is what the NFL is doing currently with cables, placing the robotic cameras directly over the center of the football field and actually filming plays from above. Imagine what that would look like on a race track if they could figure out a way to string that much cable across the track enabling them to get those wider angle from above. I think Indianapolis has experimented with that a little bit. I like the camera under the asphalt of the track when the car passes right over that’s pretty cool. It’s funny that we’ve gotten so used to the in car camera now. I remember how amazing that was when that technology came along. I remember not being able to get away from the TV when it would show in car camera footage.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Yes, in-car coverage is riveting. It is hard to take your eyes off the screen when two cars (without roofs) are inches apart at 200+ mph. I have been in bars when customers were not paying much attention to a race on TV, then when coverage shifts to in-car footage, suddenly everyone is watching.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Fox used a robotic cable camera in some NASCAR broadcasts back in 2013, which was a very cool angle. It was strung along the front straightaway, though, not across the track as you suggest.

      That camera, however, was retired after one of the cables broke during the Coca-Cola 600, bringing out a red flag after damaging a couple of the cars and injuring a handful of fans who were whipped by the cable as the cars on the track dragged it.

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    I am not the best person to do brainstorming as I am still trying to figure out why glue does not stick to the inside of the bottle or why sheep don’t shrink in the rain.

    I will simply say that the goal of TV and internet racing coverage should always be to duplicate to whatever degree possible the visceral feeling of being in the car, at the track, in the paddock, and so forth.

    Of course, the downside to that is then more fans who may be on the fence about going to the track may decide to skip the drive and watch from their couch, or watch the next day on YouTube.

    Personally, I will always prefer to experience a race live when possible. I prefer to hear loud screaming engines, loud squealing tires close to my ears and and actually feel the rush of air as cars blast by at 200 mph than to have Diffey describe it to me.

    • Me too. There is nothing better than an IndyCar (in this case) full song ripping by, and as IndyCars seem to be getting progressively louder lately, it is impossible to beat that experience live. It’s either your thing or not. The sights, sounds, and smells, assaulting all 5 senses to me, nothing that can compare to it. Its always been that way.

  8. john of sparta Says:

    4 questions:
    -innovative in the visual –
    for TV, one graphic presentation per shot during the green flag, all green flag laps shown live in every race, and finally ‘enhanced’ car
    numbers or colors or something. it’s really hard to tell them apart.
    -Can IndyCar enhance its image-
    No. not without spending a lot more money to do it.
    -What can this sport do to better-
    well, to show what it’s like to be in the stands, have a camera show that. people blocking the view, sun glare, etc. but that’s not what people want to watch on TV, IMO.
    -What are your thoughts-
    be TV. don’t try to approximate actually attending the race.
    produce, direct, and showcase FOR the TV audience.
    make it TV “friendly” (like the NFL and unlike the NHL).

  9. Late to the party, but lap times, lap times, lap times. They tell the story and we never get them. I watched NASCAR at Kentucky from the pits and used the 16 Cars pit box TV’s and one of them had lap times. It amazed me how much faster Brad Keselowski was than the other cars. Give me this in IndyCar and I would not care who the announcing crew is.

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