WRC set to geo-block OTT service to appease broadcasters
By Jonathan Rest at Sportel Monaco
WRC Promoter, the rights-holder of motor racing's World Rally Championship, could be forced into introducing geo-blocking for WRC All Live, its live streaming service, when the new rights cycle gets under way next year following discussions with potential broadcasters.
WRC All Live, an enhancement to the series’ existing OTT platform WRC+, went live in January, offering more than 25 hours of live coverage from each rally as a continuous live stream and costing €8.99 ($10.31) per month or €89.99 for the year.
The service is presently available worldwide even in major markets where a television deal is in place, a situation that has prompted concern among some exclusive rights-holders.
Oliver Ciesla, managing director of WRC Promoter, said: “We do need to look at WRC All Live strategically now. It has been a great success and well-received by our fans, but in our discussions with broadcasters, particularly pay-TV ones, they are concerned about it devaluing their exclusive rights. It looks like we will have to geo-block it in some markets for the cycle."
The cycle in question runs from 2019 to 2022, with WRC Promoter meeting with numerous broadcasters during this week's Sportel Convention in order to get deals across the line before the 2019 season-opener in Monte Carlo on 24 January.
Two contracts are already in place, with Canal Plus in France (that deal was signed this week) and a long-term agreement with Kwesé TV, the Econet Media-owned pan-African pay-television broadcaster.
Last week, WRC Promoter brought in Pitch International, the UK-based sports marketing agency, to sell its media rights in south-east Asia (excluding Japan), the Indian sub-continent and eastern Europe to 2022.
Japan has been held back as it is one of the three markets, along with France and Finland, where WRC Promoter sees significant potential for an uplift in the value of its rights thanks to a combination of drivers, manufacturers and event hosting.
France and Finland already stage WRC stages - and together have three drivers in the top five in the 2018 standings - and Ciesla said plans are in place to take a race to Japan (as well as Kenya) in 2020.
He added: "It is about building relevance in each market. We have it in France with a top driver, a manufacturer [Citroen] and the rallies. In Finland we have the drivers and rallies. So for Japan, we already have the manufacturer [Toyota], and if we can find ourselves a star Japanese driver, along with the planned event there in 2020, it will be a huge market for us."
Asahi Kasei, the Japanese chemical company, became an official WRC partner in July.
Chile will host a round in 2019, taking to 14 the number of stages on the calendar, and Ciesla said 16 would be "the absolute limit for us," citing the challenge of transporting equipment.
Other races will be staged next year in Sweden, Mexico, Corsica in France, Argentina, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Turkey, the UK, Spain and Australia.
In 2019, WRC Promoter will be offering more than 350 hours of programming to rights-holding broadcasters.