Just over a year ago, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup drew to a close in Val di Sole, Italy. With that, the off button on the 10-year Red Bull TV coverage was pressed, a move which caused a great deal of angst with those involved in the sport – be they organisers, riders, sponsors of fans. Many people felt a little disgruntled and uncertain at the decision to ditch Red Bull TV and with good reason.
[Words by Steve Thomas]
The Austrian media giant and energy drink brand had been long-time loyal supporters of mountain biking and had live broadcasted the series to the world through their app and platform for that period, and freely for viewers.
Through the rough and smooth times, they brought us coverage, content that others couldn’t or seemingly were not interested in offering. This drew a great deal of respect and reciprocated love from the offroad community. Without that coverage, the sport would have found itself in a very different place right now.
The Red Bull coverage was headed, in recent years, by the duo of Rob Warner and Bart Brentjens, and they proved to be an unlikely great double act, both in terms of both entertainment value and qualified commentary. When it was announced early in 2023 that the UCI had tendered out the coverage and signed a deal with Warner Bros. Discovery on the broadcast rights, it meant that GCN+ would take on the live coverage of the elite events for the next eight years. Needless to say, there was some scepticism about this.
Although GCN+ had established themselves as market leader in the live coverage of road racing and also had the GMBN channel, the question was would they have the expertise and panache to pick up the mantle from Red Bull TV?
2023 MTB coverage
From a visual point of view, and spanning the different genres of the elite categories of the UCI World Series, the coverage was good. Meanwhile, the UCI have also done a decent job of covering other categories and providing content, either live or through highlights and insights on their YouTube channel.
However, it would be fair to say that many do miss the charisma of a certain Mr Warner (not of Warner Bros.), and although Bart Brentjens has still been there to add his well-qualified insights and coverage, there has been a fair amount of eye-rolling and criticism of some of the newly assigned GCN presenters during the series. This, in some cases, is fair – although all commentators seem to be fair game when it comes to criticism, and we all make mistakes at times.
We asked Bart Brentjens for a comment and he said he sees things working together and serving the same goal as Red Bull serves as the partner of the World Cup Series of WBD.
"After the first year with WBD on board as the organiser of the MTB World Series and broadcaster, I’m super happy and more than convinced of what WBD can and will do for the sport we all love. As an expert co-commentator and being part of the WBD team, we were informed about GCN+.
I trust the process and believe we still can see all our races live (re-live or on-demand) we would like to see. WBD continued the lineup of high-quality broadcasting of our sport when they took over the organisation from UCI and the broadcasting from RBTV. These days the signing of the courses looks amazing on TV, showing the U23 categories live, and live drone shots following riders is another improvement and so we have many more improvements for our fans," Brentjen said.
2022 Nino Schurter performs at UCI XCC World Cup in Val di Sole, by Redbull
With seven years still left of their contract to cover the UCI MTB World Series and a little over a month’s notice, GCN+ announced that the platform and app would cease to exist on 19 December 2023. This was something that came as a huge shock to all of u, and one that has undoubtedly ruffled a few feathers with those involved in promoting and building the sport, who, despite the contractual assurances will surely be a little unclear about what lies ahead for them in terms of exposure and publicity.
At present, there is no clear and all-encompassing information regarding the future of the live coverage, or more aptly for subscribers, who will be able to get access to it and where. It has been stated that British and other European subscribers will be able to access the GCN+ live streams through either (or both, depending on the country) the Discovery+ and Eurosport apps.
Subscribers living outside of Europe have simply been told that they are working with local partners on solutions and that pro-rata subscription refunds will be given when the app is terminated. In other words, it looks like a long and drawn-out process with resolve looking uncertain for some of us.
"Warner Bros Discovery's vision is to elevate the major racing formats of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, taking the athletes and teams to a new level, whilst maintaining the ability to entertain and engage mountain bikers at all levels.
WBD is already working closely with the teams, new partners, organisers and all stakeholders to reach our collective goal of growing the sport of mountain biking. It’s a good opener to new partners when you can tell them that all our races are live at Eurosport and Discovery+," Brentjens commented.
What this will mean to the backlog of non-race documentaries is not yet clear. However, Europsort does say that subscribers “will have access to Europsort’s full rights portfolio & Warner Bros. entertainment content”, which is promising for those in Europe, but still rather vague overall.
Although their content consolidation plans probably make solid commercial sense to Warner Bros. Discovery, it does make things a little messy and uncertain for us fans and subscribers, such is business, and it is most certainly a business decision.
2023 UCI World Gravel Championships Italy SWPix14.jpg, by SWpix.com
What about gravel?
Noticeably, GCN+ have been dipping their tyres ever deeper into the gravel world recently, and have been producing some great films based around both classic gravel races and adventures. How exactly things will go here is also unclear right now.
Given that it has been stated that the GCN and GMBN YouTube channels and website are set to continue, it does offer up some hope that these will be used to continue producing such content, and in a similar vein (if it has proven profitable so far that is), with such content potentially appearing in longer form on the Discovery+ or other related apps. Still, that is simply a hopeful hunch at this point.
With the broadcast hiccups at the recent UCI Gravel World Championships, it does, at least, look like the UCI/organisers themselves will be obliged to cover the world title races in the future, and we would anticipate that Eurosport/GCN/Warner Bros. Discovery will somehow consolidate and also cover certain major gravel races.
In the meantime, with the major cyclo-cross races of the year about to go into full flow, many subscribers around the world will be hoping that everything is not so muddy by the time the app is deleted in December.
We’re also sure that the key staff at GCN are gutted and credit where it’s due, they have done a great job over the years, and have offered a service that could simply not have been dreamed of just a few years ago, so kudos for that, guys.
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