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Niche Sports — Such as Drifting — Find Growing Audiences Online

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It’s not about who crosses the finish line first. It’s about who gets the most points.

That’s how drifting competitions are scored. Drifting is a motor sport where one car weaves through a series of turns, with a second car shadowing it as closely as possible. The cars oversteer and seem to lose control in each turn, although the drivers know precisely what they’re doing.

Drifting is one of the many sports that are too niche for regular TV coverage but that are finding big audiences on the web. In this article, we'll look at "Battle Tested," a drifting series that recently began on Dailymotion. "Battle Tested" documents the 2013 series of U.S. competitions put on by Formula Drift, the largest professional drifting sanctioning body in the world. To learn what drifting is, and how the series came to be, we spoke with Tom Masiero, a project manager at Formula Drift Holding, who is the person in charge of Formula Drift’s online video efforts.

“It’s kind of a mix of, I would say, motorsports and action sports,” Masiero says. “It is a subjective-based judged motorsport, so that makes us a little bit unique. You could consider it similar to ice dancing, but we have it with cars and there’s a lot of action going on and lots of crashing and smoke and tires, but it’s very, very short. Usually, each run is no longer than 45 seconds, so it’s fun to watch.”

The sport of drifting has been growing for 5 years now, Masiero notes. There’s more to it than one car shadowing another. Judges look for drifting skills.

“Drivers are racing on a course, and prior to them going out there, they have certain requirements of that course where the judges want to see lots of style of cars moving sideways around certain apex turns,” Masiero explains. “It’s exciting because these guys are going in excess of 100 miles an hour but at the same time making it look like their cars are out of control. But in all actuality, they’re in control. Our drivers are extremely talented. One of our former champions is Tanner Foust, one of the hosts for Top Gear USA. He’s spearheaded the success of the series in terms of the top quality of the drivers that are in our series.”

Drifting has become an international success, with Formula Drift holding events around the world. Besides the seven events it holds in the United States for its U.S. Championship, it runs an international series that takes place in Melbourne, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Online video was crucial to Formula Drift’s success even before the Dailymotion series began. The company produces a series of biweekly webisodes called "Formula Drift Insider" as well as a long-running webcast called "DriftStream." It also works with NBC Sports on a cable TV show and offers free sponsored live streams of events. Masiero believes the company’s openness around video recording has spurred the sport’s success. “Online video has been integral in the growth of the series. In 2007 or 2008, we made a strategic shift in not limiting videorecording at events. Prior to that, we only allowed our TV operators to record video at events,” Masiero says. “We made a strategic shift, and we saw this influx of independent videographers coming into the series and producing really premium content. This fueled the growth of the sport in the past five or six years.”

Thanks in part to its open video policy, Formula Drift grew from 20,000 Facebook followers to more than 300,000 in 2 years. That kind of online success gets noticed. Formula Drift offers video clips on YouTube, Vimeo, and Dailymotion. When the people at Dailymotion saw how their audience responded to Formula Drift’s clips, they started a conversation about creating an exclusive original series. The result is "Battle Tested."

Steering a Series to Online Success

In creating a new online series, Formula Drift and Dailymotion needed to think of a fresh angle. They couldn’t offer fans the same views of the same competitions as they did in other series. What they agreed on was a show that gets into the heads of the competitors.

“The specific angle with 'Battle Tested' is the ability to tell a story within the winner’s point of view and from a battle perspective,” Masiero explains. “We can have all the clips, have all the runs, and tell a big-picture view of an event, but this lets us get the driver right after he’s won, all the emotions still in him, and talk through each individual run.”

Drifting competitions have some unusual rules, such as occasional do-overs. Seeing how drivers respond to these challenges gives the series energy.

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