The last couple of days have demonstrated exactly how dire the situation is for INDYCAR with regard to the removal of online streaming for 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. It’s embarassing for Versus, it’s embarassing for INDYCAR, and it’s a complete insult to the sport’s most diehard fans.
Wait — how can it be an insult to Versus when it’s not even a Versus TV weekend, you ask? The answer is that Versus is the entity responsible for all of this through their decision to force INDYCAR to remove streaming video from Race Control this season.
Here’s the situation that fans have faced thus far in the season opening weekend.
Yesterday, “connectivity issues” (as reported by INDYCAR) caused Race Control to go up and down constantly. Many fans couldn’t connect to it all day; those who managed to get through found coverage to be spotty at best. IMS Radio never worked through Race Control at all, and at the alternate streaming site (http://livestream.com/indycarradio) it was available but was inconsistent. A number of fans gave up on trying to keep tabs on the practice sessions at all.
Today, the connectivity issues were resolved, and we got our first look at the Race Control product that we’ll be living with for the 2011 season. Timing and scoring was consistently lagging (which was demonstrated through the team updates arriving via Twitter, which itself is notoriously slightly behind real time). And to add insult to injury, the track diagram and radio coverage that are meant to suffice to replace streaming video were being interrupted frequently to display that annoying iRacing ad that we’ve come to know all too well over the past year or so. Receiving advertising as part of a free product is understandable and accepted, but oversaturation unquestionably has the exact opposite of its intended effect. (Aside: champion-level INDYCAR Nation members reportedly were not subjected to the advertising, which is completely fair.) And then, at the end of each session, Race Control is dumping users out before timing and scoring has even caught up to the final times and before the radio broadcast has finished.
As if this wasn’t bad enough on its own, INDYCAR’s attempt to bury this change (which was only mentioned once at the bottom of a barely related news article on the INDYCAR website) has resulted in a number of fans having sat down at their computers to watch the action this weekend and been gobsmacked to learn (from other fans, not from INDYCAR) that streaming video is no longer available.
Meanwhile, Formula 1′s second practice session and qualifying were available on SPEED this weekend, and the other two practice sessions were available via a high-quality stream at speed.com. And NASCAR always has video of all of its sessions available one way or another as well.
This situation has left at-home fans feeling like the least important commodity that INDYCAR has, and it absolutely must be resolved. It could very well be the single largest fan retention issue that INDYCAR has faced since reunification, and every action with regard to it thus far has been a bungle. The contract says that streaming video isn’t an option? Hire a good lawyer to review it and find the loophole. There has to be one — there always is.
And until that can be done, INDYCAR needs to get its act together and treat the fans who are now relying on Race Control for information as if they are royalty — there should be uninterrupted radio coverage, up-to-the-second timing and scoring, and a PR person dedicated to providing updates via Twitter until his or her thumbs burn off.
This is the least that fans deserve. And if they don’t get it, they might very well walk away.