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Podcast: Can the Twitch phenomenon transfer to real-world NASCAR?

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With a few notable exceptions, Twitch streaming has been among the major success stories of the iRacing explosion in motorsports during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown of sports.

As NASCAR, IndyCar and IMSA drivers have competed in a variety of virtual races during the pandemic, many are sharing their point of views (and radio chatter) via their Twitch channels or other social platforms (such as Facebook Live for Simon Pagenaud, winner of the past two IndyCar iRacing Challenge events).

It’s been an enormously well-received feature by fans who can handle the sensory overload. Watch the races via TV or streaming while monitoring what multiple drivers are saying to their teams and sometimes each other.

And the popular feature naturally has prompted the question if the Twitch phenomenon, which essentially allows on-demand in-car cameras and radios, can be transferred to real-world racing.

When NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman initially entered broadcasting, one of his first questions was “Why doesn’t every car have an in-car camera?”

He has spent several years lobbying within the racing industry for such an advancement while coming to grasp the challenges. But he believes some form of it could happen, particularly now that iRacing has provided a taste.

“One of the things we’ve been missing as an opportunity is thinking that (in-car cameras are) solely for the broadcast,” Kligerman said on the most recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “And what the Twitch streams have exposed in connection with the linear TV broadcast is these are being put up by the drivers themselves who are willing to do it and offer this inside little view. It’s not great for watching the whole race, but just seeing their little view and seeing their chat.”

There are some hurdles to bringing a Twitch-type system to the Cup Series. It likely would be cost-prohibitive to overhaul the infrastructure needed to put a camera in every car (Kligerman notes Formula One essentially has done it but with roughly half the field size). There would need to remain in-car cameras exclusive to the weekly TV broadcasts (usually there are several sponsored each week in Cup).

And the cellular and data transmission technology still is catching up to make it feasible for 30-plus streaming cameras at 200 mph (though the migration toward 5G signals would help).

“The service infrastructure in terms of data and getting (the feed) from the camera inside the car out at a high enough quality is pretty tough,” Kligerman said. “But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

He believes one solution might be allowing teams to “own” their cameras and streams, helping defray costs while allowing another avenue for content (and perhaps sponsorship) on social feeds and platform such as Instagram and Twitter.

“There’s your in-car camera exposed to hundreds of thousands if not millions that might not be watching on TV and have the ability to go viral,” he said.

It also would be beneficial to the broadcast, too.

“Then you have this flush of content that we don’t always have,” Kligerman said. “You see a wreck happen in 32nd place, and we don’t have a camera on it, and they don’t have an onboard camera. Well, now you have that chance. So I think the sport could think about it in a way that isn’t degrading the TV broadcast … but it’s almost adding content they maybe wouldn’t have had before.”

And possibly adding fans, too.

“We talk all the time about wanting to get younger viewers, wanting to get them to watch this,” Kligerman said. “Why not go where they are with even a slice of the content they would find familiar from the gaming side and hopefully give them an interest in racing?”

During the podcast episode, Kligerman also discussed:

--Whether the iRacing Pro Invitational Series will continue when “real” racing returns.

--A recap of his third place at Richmond Raceway (which was clouded by some politics).

--A preview of the Talladega race.

--His long backstory in iRacing.

To listen to the podcast, click on the embed above, or download at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get podcasts.