Paul Phillips is the IOM TT Business Development Manager. A modest title for someone about to revolutionise an event described by the legendary Murray Walker as ‘the greatest race in the world’ but that was many years ago. Phillips is the driving force behind an astonishing plan to regain that accolade by giving a global audience the means of viewing this still remarkable, and unique event, as it happens. Yes, live tv available to anyone in any country.
Talking to bikesportnews.com after the official launch of TT+, a live streaming channel in conjunction with Vimeo, together with a star studded list of presenters, Phillips explained: “When we spoke last summer we had a plan but couldn’t talk about it. But we have carried it though with something which might be called tunnel vision just to ensure the future of the TT. We have lived through this for two and a half years and as you say it’s very ambitious but it is a great opportunity and it is up to us to achieve it.”
BSN: “Without asking you how much this is all costing it is surely a million pound job, not just a few thousand, indeed maybe a few million. So full marks. The great thing is live TV. Is that going to be distributed via terrestrial tv, streaming or what other form of distribution?”
Phillips: ”It will go out on TT+ which is a new digital streaming channel that we have created and starts in April. That channel will be available to anything which is connected to the internet, your phone, television, iPad and anywhere in the world, so if you have an internet connection you can get it. At the back we have partnered with Vimeo, one of the biggest in terms of video sharing and streaming. We’re using their system as the backend engine to power it all. They’re a world leader in this space so we don’t have to worry about this part.
“We’ve had a lot of input from outside experts in areas like this and I believe we have a really strong strategy to deliver this and I believe the opportunity is there. On the one hand it is a lot of money to invest but against some of our competitors maybe it isn’t a lot of money, if that makes sense. However, the opportunity for us with the history, the spectacle, the interesting characters and the kind of sleeping giant which the TT is in the media sense, I believe everything which is happening now suggests to me that this can be very successful. The investment, which we expect to get back very quickly, will really change the business of the TT and the business model. It is a fundamental shift.
“Now they can sit down comfortably on Sunday afternoon, watch the bikes roll out of the paddock onto the Glencrutchery Road and see it all, from there to the winners enclosure. And they’ll have the benefit of second screening, now very popular in sport where you can watch the action on one screen and the data on another. For the TT it could be live timing on your phone with live pictures on some other device.”
BSN: “You’re probably going to have fewer riders but you may attract bigger names than the ones currently doing the TT - not knocking, by the way, the top four or five who are doing it, but some riders and teams who may not have wanted to do it before?”
Phillips: “There are two ways of looking at that question. The first one is that the challenge of the TT doesn’t change so you’ve got to want to do it and be willing to take on the risk, the challenge and the investment in time, etc. For ‘professional’ teams and riders looking at sport events with increasing media profile as a benefit to sponsors it may offer a greater opportunity but that hasn’t been the case as long as I’ve worked with the TT and I don’t think it would be in the future. Morally and also financially, just dangling huge carrots in front of people to do something against their better judgement would not be the way to go.”
BSN: “Of course we all hope for the best but plan for the worst and the worst in the Isle of Man is the weather and apart from the riders you have two helicopters. Do you have a plan for the worst?”
Phillips: “The thing we can say is that the schedule is bound, at some time, to be disrupted. I have never known one where it didn’t. Sometimes significantly, sometimes in a small way. In terms of what that means for broadcast the answer is not very much. We are not governed by a broadcasting schedule as this is our own channel, the start time is up to us and will aline with the schedule. People will receive push notices on their devices telling them about changes. This happens on streaming services I watch and it seems to work.
“This is the beauty of the world we live in now and perhaps one of the reasons why the TT has never had live tv because linear broadcast would never cover an event which changes the schedule as much as the TT has to. We’re 100 per cent flexible, it’s our channel and we don’t have to finish by seven o’clock for EastEnders unless John McGuinness was a big fan! The sport being built around the broadcast is an important thing and in 2023 our schedule will involve more weekend racing which is a consideration for that. And if we are trying to attract some of the four billion internet users we have to remember they are in different time zones which might work quite well.”
“The big point for me is that this strategy is far beyond a live broadcast. The channel is the key element and all the digital channels which will support that. It is a strategy to bring people along a journey with us from not being interested in the TT or being mildly interested to being a full fan, perhaps travelling to the event, being glued to the screen or whatever. That will be a 365 day in the year approach of which two weeks of the TT will be an important part but the rest of the year will be new and original content being given away for free, both live and documentaries which will be seen this spring and next autumn.
“For instance, our podcast which was launched in January is in the UK top ten for sport and in the UK top 100 for all podcasts. It has had a fantastic start and we are delivering that free all through the year. If you are a TT fan you will never have as much access to riders, the inside stories from behind the scenes etc.This has never been done before (other than via bikesportnews.com, Editor!).
“The TT is very accessible if you are at it. You can sit wherever you want, get access to the paddock unlike anywhere else in the world. It’s a total shift from where we were, all about finding new fans making sure when we stop there will be plenty of people to take our places.”
BSN: “This is an amazingly ambitious programme, more than any other except the Olympic Games, and it is inevitable that mistakes will be made .The buggeration factor must be quite high because this is the first time you have done it. Who is the poor sucker who has got to pull all this together apart from you Paul?”
Phillips: “I am very accountable for the project. It is my project. I raised the investment from the government’s Economic Recovery Group with great help from my partners in it and my boss, the Chief Executive. I am leading the project but we have key lieutenants in every area, really good people working on a very complex plan and responsible for individual projects in all the areas whether it be live tv, content, marketing, video, etc.”
BSN: “Finally Paul, do you have any comments on the kerfuffle concerning marshals?”
Phillips: “It is a storm in a tea cup. What is being said on social media doesn’t represent reality. Reality is that we have more people training than ever, more people signing up than ever, the organisation at the top end is really professional, good quality people. The TT is funny, particularly at the moment. We are going through a period of remarkable change, the most for decades. And on the one hand we have the world at large and when we touch the world at large we generally get very positive feedback, ie, ‘this is great. You’re heading in the right direction’. But there is also a hardcore, really close to it on Facebook and if we asked around we would probably end up opening a gate on the Mountain...”