A motorsport series opting to move its coverage exclusively to a direct-to-consumer (DTC) service is certainly a bold move.
More recently, distributing content across a combination of linear and digital channels has enabled motorsport properties to maximise reach while also catering to evolving consumption habits. But, like most sports, the motorsport industry is yet to go all in on over-the-top (OTT) broadcasting.
Some series have made tentative steps into the sector, such as Formula One with F1 TV Pro, which has potential but is hampered by exclusive media rights deals that prevent its premium tier from being available in some territories. Then there are others like MotoGP’s VideoPass, IndyCar Live!, and Motorsport.tv.
Going against the grain, the World Rally Championship (WRC) has opted to go all in on DTC with the launch of Rally.TV, the brand for its revamped OTT platform and 24/7 linear channel. According to the official WRC broadcast guide, the series has 19 media rights deals in place globally, which highlights that the series is shifting its focus to one platform.
— World Rally Championship (@OfficialWRC) August 16, 2023
Now that Rally.TV is officially launched, it will be interesting to see how those broadcast deals are affected when they come up for renewal. The broadcast guide points out that Rally.TV is the only platform to offer all stages live, while it also provides comprehensive coverage of the European Rally Championship (ERC) and the World Rallycross Championship (WRX).
The likely outcome will be localised versions of the Rally.TV platform being rolled out as free ad-supported Streaming Television (FAST) channels, something that other motorsport series could well look to replicate.
With Rally.TV replacing WRC+, which was available in some form between 2014 and 2023, the focus is clearly on pivoting away from just being a home for WRC and becoming the global hub of rallying. As well as live action, the platform is home to highlights, specials and analysis, as well as archive content and exclusive documentaries and features.
On the back of the launch in August, BlackBook Motorsport sits down with Philipp Maenner, WRC Promoter’s senior director of media rights, to learn more about the overhaul of the streaming platform.
Why did you create WRC+ in the first place? Why was DTC an ideal route for rally and how difficult was it to get off the ground?
Rally is a complex sport [and this applies] to the media product. WRC Promoter took over the role as the promoter of WRC in 2013. When we took over, there was only one live TV stage available from an event, plus highlights programmes.
If you compare that content output to the actual event – where you have around 20 stages on average – then the majority of the action was not available for the fans to watch live. We changed that in 2018 with the introduction of WRC All Live, which made it possible to watch all stages live for the first time.
In total, that is around 25 hours of live content per WRC weekend, which is a significant amount. We also wanted to ensure all fans have access to this product. Therefore, we made global availability via our own platform the priority.
To broadcast 25 hours of live content from a rally is also not something that every broadcaster can or will do, so our own OTT offering was the [path to take] for fans to watch the sport they love. Over the years, we started to include WRC All Live in broadcast agreements, but still offer our own OTT platform – now Rally.TV – worldwide.
WRC events take place all over the world in wildly different locations, with surfaces including gravel, tarmac and snow challenging the drivers
Are rally fans, and by extension motorsport fans, more open to dedicated platforms than other sports?
I think our sport is unique in terms of how an event looks [when] compared to Formula One or MotoGP, for example. To make a comparison or to say rally fans are more dedicated is hard to judge.
We start the events on a Thursday or Friday and finish on a Sunday: it’s a time trial, no head-to-head, and every stage is important. This makes it addictive to watch from start to finish as anything can happen at any time. So, from our point of view, we can say our fanbase is really dedicated.
[We can see this] on our own platform, but also our broadcast partners [will tell you] the engagement of fans is very high.
One of our broadcast partners shared with us that people are watching WRC All Live for up to eight hours on average per WRC weekend, which is crazy – but this is also in line with what we are seeing on our own platform.
What a day at #RallyJapan ��
— World Rally Championship (@OfficialWRC) November 17, 2023
Why did you embark on the rebrand? How does Rally.TV differ from WRC+?
We have evolved as a company, in particular over the last two years. We became the promoter of the World Rallycross Championship (World RX) in 2021 and took over the ERC in 2022.
When we assumed control of those championships, we copied the existing WRC+ and created standalone applications for both series, only changing the colours to comply with their brand guidelines.
This was not a great user experience for rally or motorsport fans; you needed three different apps and two different subscriptions to watch all of the content that we have in our portfolio, which now includes 600 hours of live content from more than 30 events per year.
We embarked on this journey to build something completely new – a new name, a new brand, a new platform. Rally.TV now combines all the content for all our championships on a single platform, under one subscription.
How does Rally.TV work alongside linear television deals? How do they serve different audiences?
As mentioned before, we operate Rally.TV globally, so this includes all markets where we have existing broadcast agreements.
Our linear broadcasters are very important to us and we have strong partnerships, but our offering co-exists very well alongside the more traditional deals.
However, our broadcast partners do something that we are not doing, as WRC All Live is only available with English, Spanish, German and Japanese commentary. They enrich our global offering with local commentators and, in many cases, local studios with their own hosts and experts.
That local flavour and storytelling is a key differentiator between our offering and what our broadcasters offer. It is, however, important that certain audiences – and I look at the younger generation in particular – are no longer considering signing up for more traditional broadcast services.
For them, Rally.TV would be the only option to consider in order to watch rally. In the end, we want to serve fans and offer them different ways to access the world of rally.
Want to drive a full-length #RallyJapan?
Hop into our Official WRC Club and you might get 3 months of https://t.co/Ci1UPIwQiP too ��
— EA SPORTS WRC (@EASPORTSWRC) November 10, 2023
How important are digital platforms and social media to a sport like rally?
Social media plays an integral role in our overall promotional strategy, acting as a first touchpoint in the funnel to bringing potential subscribers into contact with Rally.TV, as well as providing the canvas to demonstrate our sport’s unique identity.
During rally weekends, we avoid rushing all content to social media as it happens. Instead, we use it as a traffic driver for our digital websites by teasing the big moments, with the ultimate goal of transforming those users who come to our website into subscribers.
For rallying in particular, social media and digital provide a vital tool to onsite fans to which only cycling enthusiasts can relate: providing context of the rally prior to the cars reaching their vantage point.
Without this service, onsite fans – who only see a small percentage of the event – would find it incredibly difficult to understand who is leading.
How would you like to see this platform evolve? Is there scope to bring in other series?
There will be additional features and improvements coming for the new WRC season. We will also launch the new TV apps for Rallye Monte-Carlo with a significantly improved user interface and user experience.
We have a long-term strategy for Rally.TV and will continue to further develop the platform, but Rally.TV is not only an OTT platform. We have the Rally TV linear pay channel that we offer, and we will launch a Rally TV FAST channel next year.
We also continue to explore localised versions of Rally TV in selected markets, like what we have done in Poland where we launched a Polish version of Rally TV with tremendous success.
In terms of our content offering, we are looking to further develop it. We are already in conversations with series that are interested in joining Rally.TV and to make Rally.TV the home of offroad motorsport.
We are already in conversations with series that are interested in joining Rally.TV and to make Rally.TV the home of offroad motorsport.
Philipp Maenner, Senior Director of Media Rights, WRC Promoter
Is there any potential for crossover with EA Sports WRC? Can that be a route to market or an opportunity to cross sell or distribute content?
Absolutely, there’s immense potential for collaboration with EA Sports WRC as both are digital products that naturally resonate with each other. It also serves as a strategic route to market for Rally.TV.
WRC is actively partnering with EA and Codemasters to ensure Rally.TV receives widespread visibility within the game. This collaboration specifically aims to reach a younger generation, the future enthusiasts of the sport.
A simple and effective example is that Rally.TV forms part of the windscreens for all of the cars, featuring on the cover and in the game itself.
This is rally, built by you, from the DiRT up ��
Welcome to @EASPORTSWRC
— EA SPORTS WRC (@EASPORTSWRC) October 30, 2023
Additionally, as part of this collaboration, a competition was launched on the ‘Racenet’ online portal by EA, in conjunction with Rally.TV. Participants can win complimentary free access to Rally.TV by successfully completing a stage on the game.
This not only creates an engaging experience for gamers, but also establishes a seamless connection between virtual rally experiences and the real world content on offer. It’s a brilliant strategy to cross-sell and distribute content, ensuring a dynamic and interactive approach to expanding the audience base for both the official WRC game and Rally.TV.
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