Equestrian sports coverage: is live streaming the answer? [H&H VIP]

  • Not that long ago showjumping was a familiar sight on television screens across the country.

    But over the past few years horse sport as a whole has dropped off the public’s radar when it comes to TV, with shows including Hickstead and Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) missing from the schedules.

    However, despite this TV decline, this weekend (26-28 June) fans were able to watch three major equestrian events from wherever they were.

    The Hickstead Derby, Hopetoun International and the Global Champions Tour (GCT) were all available via livestreaming — a medium which is increasingly popular in horse sport.

    As well as branching out to a broader audience — who can watch it for free via the internet — another major benefit of this is to make the sport more commercial to appeal to sponsors and owners. A subscription service FEI TV covers competitions including the FEI Nations Cup series and many dressage competitions.

    Showjumping success

    Showjumping has been ahead of other equestrian disciplines for some time with regards to livestreaming.

    The GCT has had much success with online streaming since its inception in 2008.
    More than 35,790 unique viewers watched the GCT in Monaco at the weekend, and organisers told H&H that there has been a 22.34% increase from last year, indicating the steep growth in popularity.

    Earlier this year the organisers of Hickstead decided to use Sky Sports for the Royal International only, and to produce and televise the Derby meeting themselves, due to the “production costs involved”.

    During the Derby meeting (25-28 June) a total of 56,000 viewers tuned in online — with people from 68 different countries watching.

    “The platform allows viewers to access the broadcast on a variety of devices, from connected smart TVs to mobile phones,” said Adam Cromarty from Impact Media, who produced the coverage.

    “I think this is a really innovative and exciting time in the television industry. Live streaming to this level could really increase the media coverage for equestrian sports.”

    The Hickstead production used eight cameras and six operators.

    “As far as I’m aware this is the biggest livestream of an equestrian event in the UK yet,” added Mr Cromarty, whose company also provides livestream from British Showjumping events including Pony of the Year Show and the Blue Chip Championships.

    “Other sports and other countries — including the GCT — have had full production for some time, and now the UK is catching up.”

    Edward Bunn of Hickstead said he was “delighted with the success” of Hickstead TV.

    “The feedback and take up completely justifies our decision to livestream the meeting to a worldwide audience,” he added.

    And fans seemed pleased, although some bemoaned the lack of camera angles available with a full television crew.

    “The commentary was insightful and there was great interaction with social media,” said one H&H reader. “It was actually better then when it was covered by Sky as it meant you could watch the whole event. I think it is a really positive way of promoting the sport.”

    At the same time as Hickstead announced it was parting ways with Sky for the Derby meeting, it was revealed that HOYS had been dropped by the broadcaster.

    However, HOYS has now confirmed that it too will be using livestreaming for a “select number of championship classes” at this year’s event.

    More information regarding the streaming timetable, platform and televised classes will be released later this month.

    “The growing popularity of streaming seems to be impacting positively on equestrian sport,” a HOYS spokesman told H&H.

    “Nothing can compare to the atmosphere of being at a live event, but for those that can’t be there streaming allows viewers to still be involved. Various sporting events have seen success with streaming recently, and this avenue is one we are keen to explore.”

    Eventing breaking through

    “Livestreaming permits minority sports to be shown in detail,” said Conrad Murray from Equivideo, which is currently working with British Eventing.

    The company already produces livestreams from dressage venues including Addington Manor, but eventing — particularly the cross-country element — poses many more challenges for filming.

    Equivideo aims to deliver all the major horse trials in the UK, with the exception of Badminton due to BBC rights.

    The content comprises live film, which will go out on a big screen at the event, as well as the stream online, free for anyone on any device.

    The team was at Hopetoun this weekend (25-28 June), with their next outing at Barbury (9-12 July).

    A pilot at West Wilts last month had 30,000 unique views over the two days, with 9,000 consecutive users, while early figures suggest that 18,400 watched Hopetoun.

    “Eventing has always been difficult — you can film dressage with only one camera, but you need several for cross-country,” added Mr Murray.

    “At Hopetoun we had six cameras covering the majority of the course. It is incredibly expensive to film though, at around £15,000 per event.”

    BE chief executive David Holmes said West Wilts was a “successful first pilot”, and that the organisation was looking at several production companies.

    “The principle of streaming is fantastic for competitors and their supporters of course, but also for organisers as it gives greater visibility for their sponsors’ branding around the course as well as giving greater exposure to sponsors via adverts on the stream on the big screen,” he said.

    However, costs are an issue.

    “As yet, we don’t know what the model of making streaming financially sustainable looks like,” Mr Holmes added.

    “While it is an opportunity that could potentially increase the visibility of our sport and have financial benefits for organisers, there are several challenges around the logistics and associated costs.”

    Australian eventer Paul Tapner said the quality must be better.

    “It’s fantastic that eventing is catching up with other sports, and getting to where we should have been 10 years ago,” he said.

    “However, I watched some of the West Wilts coverage and got cheesed off in about 10 minutes. It was confusing as the commentary didn’t match the feed as it was taken directly from the event. There also needs to be live scoring [for example via graphics on screen] so you know who you’re watching and what’s happening.

    “The benefits are great, but it needs to be done properly.”

    President of the International Event Riders Association Bruce Haskell agreed.

    “Anything that can be done to increase the commercial aspect of the sport is a positive, but the visual output must also be matched by the content.”

    Although being expensive, production costs are more accessible to shows than a TV crew, especially at a showjumping event. Hickstead declined to comment on how much the livestreaming of the Derby meeting cost, but H&H believes it is around a tenth of the cost that it would have been with Sky.

    Adam Cromarty added: “Livestreaming also makes advertising more achievable, as in the past costs for slots with Sky Sports might have been prohibitive.”

    Bruce Haskell believes this appeal will also reach to owners and sponsors, as they can watch the shows and their horses remotely — as well as seeing their names gain more coverage.

    He added: “While it is certainly a step in the right direction, we need to keep moving forward to keep in line with other sports. We need better technology in eventing — 2015 could be the year it takes off.”

    Ref: H&H 2 July, 2015