Dorna, the body responsible for organizing, promoting and marketing the MotoGP series, has traditionally done a fantastic job in selling the series to television broadcasters, making the series the second biggest form of motor racing on TV, behind only Formula One, with TV viewing figures not far off the numbers for F1, and hundreds of millions of TV viewers watching the sport online. Unsurprisingly, Dorna has come to think of its job as selling TV broadcast rights.
The tragic consequence of this concentration on old media is that they have singularly failed to grok the internet, as the expression has it. To Dorna, the internet is a threat, a force they can neither understand nor control, and what's worse, a medium without an obvious method of generating an income from. Exacerbating the problem is the rise of peer-to-peer technologies such as BitTorrent and video sharing websites like Youtube. Torrents of MotoGP races appear online within minutes of the events finishing, while clips of the most exciting and controversial parts of MotoGP races likewise flood onto Youtube almost immediately after they happen.
Youtube, in particular, has been a target of Dorna, the site's reputation for taking material subject to copyright claims down first, then asking questions about it later - effectively reversing the burden of proof - making Dorna's job a lot easier. Videos of MotoGP footage on Youtube tend to disappear within a few days of going up, with Dorna firing off takedown notices at a vast rate.
The reasoning behind the heavy-handed action is simple, and to some extent understandable. Dorna earns many millions of dollars in revenue from TV broadcasters, who do not take kindly to seeing the material they paid so heavily for being available online for free. But what is interesting about the blocked videos on Youtube is that the copyright claims are all issued by Dorna, rather than the companies actually broadcasting the material. Footage can be found on Youtube from the German broadcaster DSF, the Italian broadcasters Italia 1 and Mediaset, the BBC, Eurosport, in its many national incarnations, but each time these videos are removed, it is always at the behest of Dorna, not the broadcaster.
This heavy-handedness is pointless, foolish and self-defeating. The pointlessness of taking down the videos is obvious from the fact that despite the long and growing list of takedowns issued, a 1 minute search turned up 20 other versions of the race still online, from radio commentary versions with stills, videos of people's home TVs showing the broadcast, high-quality wide-screen versions of the last few laps, and even a clip of the big screens at the track showing the final laps.
That was just on Youtube. In addition to Youtube, the full video of the race is available on a host of torrent sites such as the Pirate Bay (still operating, despite the conviction, currently being challenged, of its owners). There are also a host of new forms of P2P video sharing, some even live, such as Vimeo, Blip.tv, Justin.tv and TVAnts, which are almost impossible to monitor and shut down. This is truly a losing battle which Dorna are trying to fight.
It is even self-defeating. Video of that last dramatic lap at Barcelona immediately hit Youtube and motorcycle forums all over the world, and the reactions were delirious. Former fans who had given up on MotoGP after the recent processional racing, and newbies who had never even considered watching the sport before were instantly converted: Those two minutes of visceral action made more new converts to bike racing than any marketing action has done in a very long time. They were the best advert for the sport imaginable, and came with two likable, vivid personalities involved.
But instead of leaving them up as a marketing exercise, Dorna has done all in its power to have them removed. All that free publicity is gone at a single stroke. The many millions of dollars which Fiat, for example, pours into the sport is less effective, with all that advertising for their product gone.
Dorna's failure to get the internet is not restricted to video, however. As with all sports, any media outlet wanting to send representatives to cover an event must send in a request to the promoter, in this instance Dorna. Unlike other promoters, Dorna does not just judge requests for media accreditation on their merits. While applications from TV, radio and print publications are issued for free, and based on the publication making the request - a specific number of places allocated to international media, another number allocated to local media, yet more to TV and radio broadcasters - applications from online publications are granted only upon payment of a fee. The generous of spirit may regard this as one way of sifting out the serious applications from the closet fans, keen to get a glimpse of the series from the inside without providing any meaningful publicity for the series.
But it is not just small and unknown online publications who are asked for money: Any application from internet news outlets is considered subject to a fee. That includes media accreditation requests from some of the biggest names in online motorsports publishing, as well as respected motorsports websites. If the measure is aimed at deterring fans from trying to get into the races for free, then why ask some of the very biggest names in motorcycle racing journalism for money, so they can report on the series for websites. And before you ask, I am not referring to myself here in an act of disguised hubris, I am referring to the household names that any race fan is likely to name if asked.
And yet this week, Dorna have shown that they really do understand where their assets lie. All this week, the MotoGP.com website has been screening a set of exclusive videos showing special footage of that last lap between Lorenzo and Rossi at the Catalunya MotoGP race. The series has included a free highlights reel, onboard footage with both Rossi and Lorenzo, special overhead footage, and even a highly entertaining view from inside the pit garages. Most of the extra videos are only available to paying subscribers to MotoGP.com's video package, but are well worth the season ticket, just for these videos.
For this is where Dorna's strength truly lies: They have unlimited amounts of footage which never gets seen, disappearing on the cutting room floor under the harsh eye of the editor. And yet thousands, if not millions of fans are crying out for this kind of material, of seeing the action from a million different camera angles, and reliving the excitement of the races.
Race fans are no longer happy just to watch what the director decides to show them, and the internet has bred a generation of fans who are increasingly used to being their own directors, and making their own decisions about how they will see an event. The future of TV is increased user involvement with the viewer deciding which camera angles he'd like to watch and when. Devices such as Kangaroo.tv's hand-held TV, which allows users attending a sports event to choose which of the available camera feeds they'd like to watch, are both a boon to the fans at the circuit, and point the way to the future of the TV viewing experience. Digital TV has made TV a far more interactive experience, and the combination of user-selectable camera angles and digital technology has the potential to explode the popularity of MotoGP - and many other forms of motorcycle racing.
MotoGP.com's Rossi vs Lorenzo specials have shown that occasionally, Dorna understands the potential of the internet. Tragically, those occasions are still very few and far between.