Four full days of continuous and free live-stream from two major UK events, Barbury Horse Trials and the Hartpury Festival of Dressage, gave much food for thought this past weekend. It also caused some minor disruption and time-tabling issues to the weekend regime, which had to be fitted in around who was competing where and when.
But for this arm-chair spectator, the discovery that both competitions were being live-streamed solved the dilemma I had been contemplating; that of which to go to in real life. Neither, as it turned out, thus saving hours of travelling, the cost of fuel, entry tickets and a few coffees and cakes.
And yes, the live-streaming from both events worked well both on the desktop and the iPad, although neither was great quality — full screen on the desktop was just too ‘pixelated’. But better quality requires a big broadband capacity which currently most places in the UK do not have, including this location, so better small — iPad size was about right — than watching coverage that continually stutters and stalls.
As I soon found out, and even for me, there is a finite number of combinations one can watch round a two-star cross-country course without feeling that one is turning into a couch potato and that the weekend was slipping by without actually doing anything — which is not how one feels when one has got up and gone in real life. And sitting home alone is not exactly social — part of the pleasure of going to an event is meeting up with friends. There was no chat, no course walk and no picnic — unless a sandwich in front of the computer counts.
Dressage was easier to dip in and out of due to the scheduled times of riders and much smaller classes. And it takes place in one place. Eventing has always been more difficult and costly to broadcast — Barbury is unique in that it is the most spectator-friendly course in the country and from one viewing point.
However, unless it’s a major event, riders don’t necessarily stick to their times, the classes at Barbury were huge and if you didn’t know better, the commentary, which was picked up from the event, didn’t necessarily refer to the rider you were watching. But, heh, it was live-stream, not television, and it enabled me to watch, get a feel for the event and keep a handle on what was happening. And it rained on Sunday so I didn’t get wet.
Saturday night’s gala evening at Hartpury, watched on the iPad whilst cooking supper (who’d have thought it!) was much enjoyed in this household and made a welcome change from Casualty. As a quick aside: a big pat on the back for Isobel Wessells, who made the young horse prix st georges, spectator-friendly with her interviews and comments. And I did feel that maybe I had missed out and should have gone for real. But then again I wouldn’t have got home till after midnight.
So is live-streaming the way forward? Will it create more interest in the sport and bring more people to a show or will it eventually put paid to real spectators, who ultimately are the ones paying for the event to take place in the first place?
If everyone was like me and stayed home to watch live-stream then there would be no spectators. But then shows wouldn’t have to spend a lot of money providing for the masses that cost them a fortune in seating, loos, health and safety etc. Shows would be for competitors and sponsors only — and, ironically, I can see how live-streaming is possibly more attractive to a sponsor due to the potentially larger and captive audience. Is this the future?
I have no idea and perhaps show organisers don’t either. But I do love the fact that watching an event at home that is taking place in real time is now possible and that I have the choice. Would I pay for it? Initially, I thought not, especially on a show-by-show basis, but for a package, I’d quite possibly do it. One thing’s for certain; I am sure I am not the only one hoping that more UK shows will be live-streamed. What’s on next?
Image: Mark Todd and Front Street win the Retraining of Racehorses Championship at Barbury Horse Trials, by Adam Dale