Case Study: The Greatest Spectacle in Racing Goes Live Online

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The Indianapolis 500 is the longest-running auto race in the United States. It is known worldwide as the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" and attracts the largest single-day crowd of any spectator sporting event in the world. The race has taken place on Memorial Day weekend every year since 1911, except during America’s participation in world wars between 1917 and 1918 and 1942 and 1945. The race is held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a relatively flat two-and-a-half mile oval that is almost rectangular in shape. It is made up of two 5/8-mile straightaways, two 1/8-mile short straightaways, and four 1/4-mile turns. The infield road course includes parts of the oval and creates a 2.6-mile track. The dimensions have remained unchanged since it was built in 1909. The Indy Racing League is the premier open-wheel, oval racing series in the world.

WhiteBlox is an internet protocol television (IPTV) solutions company that enables clients to leverage video assets into profitable, private-label broadband networks. WhiteBlox’s broadband solutions have been enabling viewers to access both live broadcasts and on-demand video programming through a single interactive media player for more than three years. The WhiteBlox system offers a range of revenue-generating opportunities, including pay-per-view and subscription models, as well as time-aware ad insertion and interactive advertising targeted by demographics or geography. Advertising may be presented in static, Flash, or video formats. The system delivers a variety of interactive options, including chat features, polls, surveys, and multilingual media players. WhiteBlox is headquartered in Houston, with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Mexico City.

The Challenge
The Indy Racing League wanted to enhance the traditional television viewing experience of Indy fans for the 2006 event. The goal was to offer the audience a new way to connect with the events, the racers, and each other by broadcasting races live on the internet. It was important to the league to have the option to offer the broadcasts for free, so they needed a system that would support advertising that could in turn pay for the broadcasts. They decided to kick off the internet broadcasts at the largest race in the world, the Indy 500, and then continue the broadcasts through the remainder of the Indy Racing League schedule, which includes 16 races in the United States and one in Japan.

The key objectives the league had in mind were to broadcast live and to allow fans to become active participants in the viewing process. The league especially wanted the fans to be able to control their own experiences as they watched online.

"The internet is the perfect medium to deliver a user-controlled racing experience. We wanted to create an environment that would allow fans to talk with each other. This just enhances the overall experience," said Adrian Payne, manager of internet development for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League.

The Indy Racing League looked at several solutions, but none of them met all of the requirements they were seeking to fulfill. Then they met Greg Demetriades, chairman and CEO of WhiteBlox. Demetriades presented a solution that had several unique characteristics. The WhiteBlox solution would allow the league to give IndyCar fans a live, uninterrupted video experience, and the ability to essentially direct the show. This was vital to the league, since the endeavor was to offer an increased level of functionality not available through traditional broadcasting.

Since the Indy 500 is one of the largest sporting events in the world, the Indy Racing League wanted to go the extra mile and allow the fans to watch the race from inside the cars. Therefore, the most important element was the ability to offer simultaneous multiple camera angles.

This multi-camera feature would be quite a challenge, because the system would have to be designed to send six simultaneous video signals—coming from inside cars going in excess of 220 miles per hour—from the track to the encoders and then to the fans. In addition to the six in-car cameras, the league wanted to place a camera in the trackside press center so fans could see the drivers give their post-race interviews. WhiteBlox rose to the challenge, customizing the solution for the Indy Racing League to include an innovative multi-camera option that allowed fans to choose which angles to follow, when, and for how long.

The next concern was finding a way to incorporate advertising into the system in a noninvasive way. The goal was to create a seamless fusion of content and advertising, so that the ads are present and available but do not detract from the overall viewing experience. WhiteBlox created this application with the fan in mind. The ads were integrated into the media player in a way that did not distract from the video and did not require users to interact with them unless or until they wanted more information. Thus, even the issue of advertising fell under the heading of a user-controlled viewing environment. The WhiteBlox system allowed interested viewers to click on ads to receive more information and even purchase merchandise through the interactive media player, without ever leading viewers away from the broadcast.

The league also wanted fans to be able to interact with one another. The WhiteBlox system allows viewers to chat with one another as well as take part in polls and surveys. They customized the system so that fans could also research drivers’ stats, access schedules, and interact with event coordinators. Additionally, the powerful back-end analytics native to the WhiteBlox system allow the league to develop ever-more dynamic programming for its fans based on viewing patterns.

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