There are a few ways to pique my interest in this cynical and ‘seen-it-all’ world we live in. One of these ways is to receive more than 30 million hits on your first two events doing something. The videos in question were an introductory video for drone racing and limited footage from two races. If you aren’t sure what drone racing is imagine an empty stadium, shopping mall or large space with a series of rings in it that flying drones are piloted through at staggering speed. There are crashes, collisions and some serious adrenalin involved. Drone racing now has a league, imaginatively titled ‘Drone Racing League’ or DRL – and has more than $8m in investor funding from some impressive names including RSE Ventures, CAA Ventures, Hearst Ventures, Strauss Zelnick (CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software), Allen Debevoise (founder of Machinima), Grant Gittlin (CXO of Medialink), Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Lux Capital, Courtside Ventures, and Gary Vaynerchuk with Vayner/RSE.
Currently, there are six races planned for 2016 on a variety of challenging courses. Six races may not sound like a lot but the post-content is where the money is. Currently, drone racing is not (yet) the stadium packers computer game watchers pay to go to but the recordings and streaming is where the real money lies. This leads to the other area, sponsorship. Despite being described by ESPN as “Twitch meets Formula One”, the CEO of DRL, Nicholas Horbaczewski, believes growing slowly with a select group is best for Drone Racing; “Our partnership strategy is to forge deep, strong relationships with a small number of Foundation Partners – entities who firmly believe in what we’re doing and want to get involved early to help us bring the incredible excitement of drone racing to an emerging global fanbase. These partners will play a key role in our growth and development, and we will look to a range of brands and companies to identify opportunities and ways to get involved.”
Experience + Intensity + Collisions + Live = Millennial Money
What interests me most about Drone Racing is the nature of the viewing experience being FPV or First Person View. In essence, the drivers use headsets to fly the drones and then this feed (aka live content) can be directly sent to any other device as if that person is actually flying the drone making for a very “intense” experience. Courses are specifically designed to test precision, throttle management and thrust vectoring which further adds to the excitement as you have multiple collisions along the way. When you see the machines being piloted I have to admit it doesn’t do much for me but as we all know money can be made from people doing things that do not make your own mouth salivate. I’m talking about the +$1 billion Electronic Sports Watching industry. The obsession, fandom and numbers involved are staggering – brands are just catching on to this world but Drone Racing could surprise and grow faster based on these interested groups and events already being set up.
How can brands get involved?
Per Horbaczewski, “The opportunities ahead of DRL are nearly limitless. We are just learning about the pilots and what the drones are capable of, and as the courses get more complex and the pilots more talented, we see incredible potential for live events and at-home content.”
1) In-race insertion
Can you imagine an oversized Monster Energy Drink can with an ring-pull the drones have to go through? The Ford Fiesta cracked window the drones have to squeeze through? The opportunities for products to be used in the actual race are currently under discussion so get in and have some impact on the outcome.
– RECOMMENDATION: Drone Racing has a savvy crowd so tread carefully and respect the sport.
For brands post-production is rich territory (and early days) to define new opportunities because the sport is in a controllable arena that isn’t live. Digital insertion is an obvious starting point but more elements will come out due to the VR elements.
– RECOMMENDATION: Go for broke and experiement wildly – you have the videogames industry to springboard from.
3) Display advertising
The opportunities to go hard and fast with simple (or dynamic) display advertising will be as lucrative as it is obvious. Beyond the racetrack and backstage elements there will be online portals and other assets to own or co-own. Brands should also look at the burgeoning virtual reality world as content will be watched on a lot of these units – the drivers use them to navigate the units remotely so the sport is immersive from the outset.
– RECOMMENDATION: Display may appear to be the easy one but treat it carefully and integrate rather than simply shout. Think about the target group and the context – direct sales may be possible if the deals are done with the right companies (Prime Now, Dominos, Postmates)
This could be big or small depending on the way the league pushes it. Brands could sponsor individuals or races depending on the way the sport goes. The real play is to help build the sport while benefitting short-term too – not all brands will be able to help with the former but smart ones will see this sport as a long-term play to connect with enthusiasts not a quick burn.
– RECOMMENDATION: Get in there quick if you are Samsung, Facebook or anyone associated with VR. There are no brainers here and some interesting potentials for quick wins and long-term wins to be had for large and small brands.
60 Seconds on DRL with DRL’s CEO, Nicholas Horbaczewski
What are the technical bars and/or restrictions that brands should be aware of?
“Drone racing has existed as a hobby with a small but engaged audience for the last few years. To bring [the league] to life our Head of Product, Ryan Gury, and his team had to rethink the design of a racing drone from scratch. The result is the DRL Racer2, a standard drone all DRL pilots race on, which races at speeds in excess of 80 MPH around insane three dimensional courses. Each drone is handbuilt by the DRL team, allowing the team to refine the world’s greatest race tech and push the skills of the pilots.”
What are the limitations? How will these be overcome?
“Drone racing is an entirely new sport. We’re in the process of creating the rules, identifying the world’s greatest pilots and learning what the technology is capable of. While we are incredibly excited to bring this experience to fans live, we are currently focused on helping the masses understand drone racing and the incredible skill of the pilots.”
Talk about the issues with live viewing. What should brands expect etc.
“The first DRL events of the 2016 season will be released on our digital channels as post-produced content. By covering the drones in LED lights, and working with some of the most talented production teams on the planet, we will focus on bringing the live experience to viewers around the world on their devices. While the content is incredible, we will also be working toward live event formats in 2016 – the drones are incredibly loud, fast and stunning to watch race live. We believe this adds another incredible opportunity to expose new audiences to the competition. DRL works closely with a range of partners to help us bring the event to life in a safe and structured format, including insurance providers and the FAA.”