The NBC Sports Group, the exclusive television home of the Tour de France in the U.S., will be putting new spins on its TV and digital coverage of the grueling stage bicycle race this July.
While national cable sports network will again be the primary home for Tour de France coverage, with
Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen calling the action for both live and nightly recaps, NBC will step on the race's pedal for the first time with 90 minutes of coverage on July 2 and July 3 at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively. The broadcast network and Versus are now part of the NBC Sports Group after Comcast assumed control of NBCUniversal in late January.
Versus gets fans on track Saturday at 8 a.m. (ET) with live coverage at the grand start from the Passage du Gois in France. Versus will air an average of 14 hours of race action per day in full HD throughout the 21-stage competition that covers more than 2,000 miles.
Digitally, Versus' "Tour Tracker" offering has been transformed into "Tour de France All Access," as Versus.com was absorbed into NBCSports.com during the first quarter following the merger.
"Versus.com did a tremendous job with the Tour last year. We're not looking to blow things up, but provide more bells and whistles as part of the broader audience we reach," said NBCSports.com coordinating producer Tom Seeley. "We've renamed the package to bring it in line with what we've done with Sunday Night Football and the Kentucky Derby."
Moreover, the berths for mobile apps are being widened beyond the iPhone to iPad and Android devices for this year's race. Once again, a free digital package-- this time at tourdefrance.nbcsports.com -- will be offered, as well as subscription vehicle. Both will feature Radio Shack as the presenting sponsor
Other new features include content partnerships with Bicycling.com and VeloNews.com, more detailed GPS mapping during each stage and the ability to share content/info via Facebook.
Before the Tour begins, users accessing tourdefrance.nbcsports.comwill be able to access on-demand video, including stage-by-stage previews, laced with historical data and technological info and travelogue vignettes; a breakdown of the top contenders; and a look back at last year's event.
Once it starts, the following daily video and information elements will be available: recaps and highlights of the day's big events and story lines; expert predictions; video highlights of each stage; live stage results; detailed standings, including overall and classifications; rider profiles by country and team; slideshows; and a Twitter stream, with entries from riders, analysts, officials and fans.
The online premium subscription and mobile products will not only gain access to the features adumbrated above, but afford buyers access to live streaming of every stage via live, HD-quality video that can be paused, rewound or cast into slow-motion. These users also received highlight clips, interviews and online-only analysis throughout the every day of the Tour as well.
Additionally, they can follow riders' progress and see how each stage is shaping up on an enhanced, interactive map for each stage and personalized their Tour experience by choosing riders and teams to track throughout the event.
The online package costs $29.95 for the entire Tour, while the mobile offerings retail for $14.99.
Seeley said there were some 26,000 subscription orders during the 2010, and 15,000 among iPhone users. NBC Sports is looking to improve on those numbers given the enhanced digital features and the addition of Adroid and tablet platforms. "There are new products and new platforms. The GPS feature is much improved," said Seeley. "There is also a greater awareness for these platforms," said Seeley.
To that end, NBC Digital is leveraging the assets of NBCU properties behind Tour de France All Access, including on-air promos on NBC Sports and Versus, and supplementing those initiatives with buys on mainstream sports sites. It's also reaching out to cycling fans via eblasts.
Seeley said that those Tour fans who elect to engage with the race digitally spend more time viewing the telecasts. Along those lines, viewers last year watched more than five hours of Tour coverage on Versus each day, up 16% from the amount of time spent watching the Tour in 2009.
Despite Lance Armstrong falling out of contention after the first week last year, the Tour de France averaged 530,000 viewers for its live morning coverage, down 14% from 2009 when the American cycling icon was more competitive. However, that delivery was up 48% from the 2006-08 average, Tours sans Armstrong.
"The Tour de France is a tentpole for sport fans. It comes right after Wimbledon, before football and when some baseball fans' teams have fallen from the race," he said. "It comes during that mid-summer sweet spot."
Back on the original small screen, Versus' production continues to evolve, as this year's daily coverage will have a new look and feel, with the most notable changes evident in the enhanced primetime show each night from 8-11 p.m. (ET). Those presentations will feature a combination of race coverage and cycling insight, as well as highlights from some of the compelling stories throughout the Tour. Each episode will include interviews with the riders at the start and finish lines, analysis and strategy segments as well as other content designed for cycling fans and those who are new to the sport.
Additionally, the network will collaborate with Gripped Films, producers of the critically acclaimed Tour de France documentary Chasing Legends, for daily, behind-the-scenes footage from the team that wins each day's stage, to the night before they start in the next day's competition.
The network will also give viewers the best coverage with bonus features such as: cameras on many of the team's buses, including Garmin-Cervelo, HTC-Highroad, RadioShack, and Leopard Trek; a pointer feature which will easily identify and focus on one rider in the 195-plus peloton; exclusive, in-depth profiles and features on teams and riders; and advanced on-screen statistics/biometrics to illustrate the intensity at which the riders are competing; among others.