Will NASCAR’s New Video Streaming Partnership Boost Low Ratings?

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JOLIET, IL – SEPTEMBER 16: Daniel Hemric, driver of the #19 Draw-Tite Ford, races Cameron Hayley, driver of the #13 RideTV/Cabinets by Hayley Toyota, during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol E15 225 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 16, 2016 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

NASCAR announced yesterday a partnership with DeskSite, an app service that can stream videos of driver interviews, news and analysis. DeskSite, which already has partnerships with teams in the NFL, NHL and MLS allows viewers to create custom libraries and download high-definition videos to the app for offline viewing. But coming off of a disappointing season in television ratings, can DeskSite provide the next step for NASCAR to attract new viewers?

Once called "America’s Fastest Growing Sport," NASCAR suffered poor ratings last season. USA Today reports that ratings "in seven of eight races on Fox were down from 2015, and four of those were the lowest since Fox began broadcasting races in 2001." After moving Sprint Cup races from Fox to NBC, 21 of 29 races declined in ratings and 22 declined in viewership compared to last year. A college football game at the Bristol Motor Speedway between Virginia Tech and Tennessee did not prevent a low rating for the Sprint Cup race later that night, down 12% from the previous year and 44% from 2014.

And despite a nail-biting victory by Jimmie Johnson, the season ended with November’s Sprint Cup falling by 25% in ratings from the previous year – although NBC’s broadcast was more successful than when the Cup was on ESPN.

But NASCAR already had their sights set on growing their digital media audience before the partnership with DeskSite was announced. Brian France, Chairman and CEO of NASCAR, told FORBES contributor Maury Brown of the opportunity the sport has. "We are well positioned for the digital age. We’re making a big investment in it," France explained. "We’re not club focused in every market like some of the professional team leagues we see around the country. Digital and social media opens that up a lot for us."

NASCAR already has, fortunately, a sizable online presence. "NASCAR.com represents a massive portal through which millions of fans engage with our sport," said vice president of NASCAR’s Digital Media Colin Smith. "Now, thanks to NASCAR DeskSite’s automatic updates and offline viewing features, our core fans can continue to access the latest NASCAR news and content no matter where they are."

As Brown reports, Smith’s division has tallied 890 million page views and has had 296 million video views in both on- and off-platform mediums through mid-November of last year. And the sport has been expanding its presence in social media as well. Seeing an increase of 89% in engagements year over, NASCAR’s social media traffic registers 236 million total engagements. NASCAR even redesigned their site to be more mobile-friendly and provide more live coverage last month.

But will providing a new avenue to consume NASCAR content provide a rallying call for more eyes to the television? That remains to be seen. As shown, NASCAR already has a sizeable internet audience – and if that audience didn’t tune in this year, would expanding their digital footprint help? It has already been theorized that younger generations are simply not interested in the prospect of watching a time-consuming race, and the ratings from different age demographics of NASCAR races support that conclusion. Perhaps new, younger viewers will be attracted by the prospect of mobile offline viewing, playlists of selected content and other convenient and on-demand features.

"We increase traffic to their pre-existing touchpoints, especially their website," Richard Gillam, DeskSite’s Chief Executive Officer, told SportTechie. Hopefully for NASCAR, that will create a ripple effect of viewers going from DeskSite to watching on television – with a few pit stops along the way to engage on NASCAR.com and Facebook.