Horse Racing’s XBTV Bets Big on NewTek
Imagine throwing a party for a few of your best friends and having more than a million people show up. That’s exactly what happened to XBTV, a digital content network that focuses on providing insight into the world of horse racing for high-end handicappers.
“We target high-end users,” XBTV senior producer, Steve Scheidler tells me. “We’re talking to people who wager $100,000 to $5,000,000 a year on horse racing. At that level, people are not looking for us to give them picks. They can already pick horses. They are looking for a toolbox of VOD content and analysis they can use on a daily basis.”
XBTV vice president, Phil Kubel agrees. “Our target audience is roughly 300 to 500 people worldwide. Surprisingly though, within a couple months of launch, we found we were reaching hundreds of thousands of people a week. And now, two years later, our content reaches over one million people a week.”
Although attracting a million extra eyeballs to their digital site might lead you to believe that XBTV was a stunning success right out of the starting gate—and you’d be right in thinking that —Kubel tells me that XBTV’s success isn’t predicated on the size of the audience. The service is judged on one criterion, increasing “handle.” That’s horse racing jargon for wagering dollars. By providing additional insight to high-end wagers, the hope was that XBTV would encourage high rollers to bet more. And using handle as its measure of success, Kubel says the service has been doing exactly what it was designed for. And what about all those additional dollars wagered by the unexpected crush of “Joe Average” viewers flocking to the service? Well, according to Kubel, that’s just gravy. Since XBTV isn’t trying to justify its monetary existence by attracting subscribers or selling advertisement, it can provide its service free of charge.
“XBTV is 100% free,” Kubel says. “The content and information is available to anyone, and because the Stronach Group, (XBTV’s corporate owners, the largest thoroughbred racing organization in North America) owns several racetracks, as well as a wagering platform, we monetize the service by increasing handle. We have a very different business model than most other TV networks or digital platforms.”
Horseworks on Demand
So, you might ask, what sort of information and content is a $5-million-a-year wagerer looking for? Before XBTV started, the organization took a unique approach to discovering the answer to that question; they asked their audience directly. When your target is less than 500 people worldwide, face-to-face contact isn’t all that difficult. And XBTV received one overwhelming request from its client base; horseworks, another bit of horse racing jargon that refers to a racehorse’s workouts on the track in the days leading up to a big race.
“We have cameras all over the United States,” Kubel tells me, “and we capture morning workouts with them. On any given morning, there could be hundreds or thousands of workouts across the nation, and we supply those workouts to our network on a daily basis.
“Prior to XBTV, if you wanted to see a morning workout, you had to travel to the racetrack to watch it. Owners, trainers, batters would all fly in to watch these million dollar horses work out. Now, they can go to XBTV.com, where we have a VOD database of over 10,000 horses working out.”
Why Not Us?
In addition to collecting and cataloguing videos of morning workouts, XBTV also produces several hours a week of analysis, programs that look a lot like any other sports network’s studio analysis shows. XBTV’s studio-based shows are slick and highly produced, despite the service’s tight budget. “We told our corporate management that we were going to disrupt the world and cover the sport of horse racing like it’s never been covered before,” Kubel tells me. “Our management said, ‘That’s great, but you still have a budget.”
But, according to Senior Producer Scheidler, a tight budget is no excuse for sub-par production. “The question I always ask myself is why not us?” Scheidler says. “Why can’t we look as good as ESPN or the NFL or Fox? That’s what drives me. I want our viewers to feel like they’re watching a top-flight network show.”
XBTV’s Secret Weapon
Network quality might not seem like an easy goal to accomplish, but according to Scheidler, XBTV is able to achieve this tough objective with the help of a secret weapon. “NewTek’s TriCaster has allowed us to bring a level of quality to our productions that is hard to match.” Scheidler says. It’s a sentiment that XBTV Vice President Kubel echoes. “NewTek products, most specifically the TriCaster, has enabled us to do what we want to do without breaking the bank,” he says.
As XBTV has grown and developed, the TriCaster® has been a consistent factor in the network’s growth. “We started off with the TriCaster 450,” chief engineer Michael Garcia says, “and then we went with the 800 series and moved up to the 8000. When the TC1 became available, once we’d reviewed everything it had to offer, we decided to upgrade again.”
TriCaster Under the Grandstand
XBTV’s TC1 now lives in a control room hidden deep in the recesses of Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, California. Also hidden beneath the grandstands are two television studios, where XBTV’s studio analysis shows are produced. The studios are equipped with Sony cameras, and the main set features XBTV’s “Window on Racing,” a huge window incorporated into the set that looks out on all the action going on at the track. But in this case, the “window” isn’t really a window. It’s a massive monitor, fed by a live feed from the track. And not just the track at Santa Anita. Thanks to NDI®, NewTek’s revolutionary technology that allows production switchers, capture systems, and media servers to access any video source, regardless of location, provided that source is connected to the network, a live shot from Florida’s Gulfstream Racetrack or anywhere else on XBTV’s network can also be fed into XBTV’s window on racing. But that’s just one way XBTV is utilizing NewTek’s revolutionary NDI technology.
NDI and LiveU
“NewTek products are the primary engine for all our live projects,” Scheidler tells me. “We work with TriCaster and the LiveU platform to leverage content from racetracks all over the world and incorporate these video feeds into our studio shows. TriCaster is at the core of everything we’re doing.”
“We make extensive use of LiveU products on remote,” chief engineer Garcia tells me. “And with NDI, we don’t need a router to get all those sources into our TriCaster in the control room.”
Garcia says he appreciates how seamlessly incorporating NDI and other NewTek technologies into XBTV’s workflow has been. It’s a sentiment echoed by Senior Producer, Scheidler. “We don’t have fifty people to throw at a problem,” he says. “We have two. So, we need to find clever ways to accomplish our goals. And we have a pretty big appetite as far as what we’re trying to accomplish. We have a day coming up where we’re going to be covering racing around the globe, from Dubai to Florida to Maryland to here in California, both in L.A. and San Francisco. And we want to accomplish all this without adding personnel. I’m confident we’ll be able to successfully achieve this ambitious goal because of our TriCaster. It’s at the core of what we do, opening up possibilities.”
Covering the Banner Races
The network’s voracious appetite for generating content is especially evident during horse racing’s banner days, most notably, during Triple Crown season. (The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes) In the weeks before these big events, XBTV launches into high gear, producing hours of content for its million-dollar wagerers and its million or so other viewers. “Each time one of the horses goes out on the track, for any reason, we cover it live,” Scheidler says. “And every day leading up to the race we produce a recap show in the morning, with analysis of all our horseworks coverage.”
XBTV was also an integral part of the latest jewel in a horse racing’s crown of big events, the Pegasus World Cup.
The Pegasus World Cup, which runs every January at Stronach Group’s Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida, is the richest horse racing event in the world, with a 16-million-dollar purse going to the winner. Any horse can enter the race, provided they fork over the $1 million entry fee. It’s a big stakes horse racing at its purest, winner take all.
“We covered the race and the lead up to race day in its entirety,” Kubel says, “with live, on-site coverage from Florida, utilizing our control room here in California. It was an honor to cover the world’s richest race using the TriCaster, and all our other NewTek technologies. Everything went off seamlessly and we couldn’t have been happier.”
“We’ve been a victim of our own success,” Kubel tells me. “When we started, we were going to produce 5 to 7 videos a week, and maybe do a live show on the weekend. Now, we’re producing 200 to 300 videos a week. It has gone way beyond what anyone expected, and all that content is coming through our TriCaster.”
“Without NewTek, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we’re doing now,” Kubel says. “The cost efficiency, the reliability, and the technology that’s all packed into one box provides XBTV with the ability to produce cost-effective shows that are high quality and comparable to any other sport network out there. TriCaster has enabled us to do everything we want to do without breaking the bank.”
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