The state of modern live streaming in motorsports is a race fan’s dream. One can tune in to races anywhere in the country for pennies on the dollar, in air-conditioned comfort, sipping our own beverages and eating our own snacks. There is no debate; this is a fabulous time to be a fan.
The experience of attending a race in person is profoundly different than watching from home, however. A fundamental truth: Two different audiences require two different voices.
Most live streams today carry the voice of the PA announcer at the track. That announcer, typically perched in the tower, is being asked to cater to the folks in attendance as well as the viewers watching from home.
Why is it set up that way? The simple answer is money. A streaming company can avoid the cost of a dedicated TV announcer by utilizing the PA voice, who is already there and is typically paid by the track or the series. That makes perfect financial sense, but this is not a good setup — all around.
Since the beginning of time, the PA announcer is an extra voice who can help interpret and inform the people at the event. When you’re sitting in the stands, your eyes can roam all around: The race leader, the battle for fourth, the two angry drivers at the back of the field who are hammering each other without mercy.
The PA announcer can call the entire, wide spectrum. They can also give the winning 50/50 number, offer birthday wishes to Aunt Maude and remind people to get into the right lane tonight after the races to turn eastbound on the state highway.
Meanwhile, the viewer at home sees things in only one dimension — the image on the screen.
That’s why people leap from their recliner, screaming at the TV: “Stop talking about the race for fourth. All I can see is the leader.”
Broadcasting 101: Call what you see on the monitor. Always. Don’t talk about things the viewer can’t see, because they’ll get so frustrated, they’ll break out in hives. But when the PA announcer follows this golden rule, the people in the stands are cheated.
Let’s face it: Trying to cover both audiences doesn’t work. Don’t blame the PA; you’re asking someone to do the impossible. Nobody can call both the screen and the entire race and do it well. Nobody.
The answer, of course, is to have two announcers. One for the house and one for the broadcast feed. But that adds another line-item in the cost breakdown, and the streaming company loathes the idea of adding another expense.
So it comes down to money. Doesn’t it always? The bean-counters are probably convinced the racing audience will tolerate this broken setup; they won’t find the money to do it right until viewers demand it.
Here’s another issue, something that has been sharply revealed over the past couple of seasons. Personality is a key element in PA work, and most announcers have developed trademark phrases and calls. This is great … if you’re hearing these lines sparingly. But seated at home, night after night, those lines first become redundant, then irritating, and finally, maddening.
Again, what works on the PA doesn’t always work in broadcasting. The personality that is projected through the speakers at the track comes across very differently at home. Shouting and screaming seems natural when you’re there in person, because it’s a different level of energy. But in your home, that energy often feels shrill and uncomfortable.
Some heartfelt advice to every PA announcer who is now also feeding streamed events: Have someone record a couple of broadcasts, then sit down with some friends in a quiet living room to watch. That’s the only way to get a true read on what you really sound like through TV audio. Do you cringe hearing yourself scream and yell? Chances are other people are cringing, too.
The realm of live streaming is, relatively speaking, still very new. Streaming is the most impactful issue in racing in many years and it has borne many questions, particularly related to revenue sharing and the impact on attendance.
Streaming is definitely here to stay, but there are issues that will need to be resolved. That stuff will be worked out by the folks in charge. It is safe to say that, whatever it looks like today, the landscape will be different in the near future.
In the meantime, all we ask is this: For those of us watching at home, please find enough money to give us a dedicated announcer. And here are some other elements we’ll want, definitely very soon. Graphics, and replays. And a pit reporter. And at least four cameras, with big lenses. And a ticker with live timing and scoring.
Thank you in advance.