How NASCAR is using AR and 360-degree video

Heading into the 2019 season, NASCAR is investing more in emerging formats such as augmented reality and 360-degree video.

This year, NASCAR plans to do 10 live 360-degree video streams to give viewers a look inside the race cars of various drivers during races. The first will take place inside driver Bubba Wallace’s car at the Daytona 500 — NASCAR’s most famous race — which kicks off the season and will take place this Sunday, Feb. 17.

During last year’s playoffs, NASCAR also introduced a new augmented reality feature within its mobile app, which was sponsored by Coca-Cola and allowed users to “walk into” and watch popular moments such as victory celebrations and post-race driver burnouts. NASCAR is bringing that feature back for the 2019 season, said Tim Clark, vp of digital for the league.

While NASCAR sees 360-degree video and augmented reality as vital components of its content and marketing strategy, these and other emerging technologies account for less than 10 percent of the league’s marketing budget, Clark said. And to be clear, NASCAR — which as a sports league is both a media company and a marketer — sees its work with new and emerging technologies as part of its marketing efforts.

“We don’t look at this as something that’s going to deliver revenue,” said Clark. “The goal is very much to drive awareness as a marketing platform to reach fans.”

In total, NASCAR produced more than 18,000 pieces of content for social platforms last year. It expects to grow that number to more than 25,00 pieces this year, according to Evan Parker, vp of content for NASCAR. All of these pieces, whether it’s social videos or 360-degree videos with AR capabilities, are treated as complementary to the main broadcast experience.

“If you can’t get to a race or have never been to a track, our experiences on digital and social platforms can not only complement what you’re watching on broadcast but might also increase your desire to get out to the track,” said Clark.

AR and 360-degree videos have received their fair share of hype among both marketers and media companies. Some of that furor has cooled recently as there are still questions on whether AR and VR can scale. Marketers are also worried that upcoming changes Apple is making to its operating system would make it make difficult to power web-based AR and VR experiences.

“With AR, in my opinion, there was a mistake made by others in talking about whether that technology will scale and reach a broad audience,” Clark said. “That’s not our goal for the space. AR is a unique opportunity for us to bring fans closer to the racetrack. We look at AR through that lens.”

With 360-degree video, which is now easily accessible on YouTube, Facebook and other big social platforms, scale is possible. And NASCAR can take advantage of the format because it can provide fans with unique access to areas such as inside the race car during a race — that is appealing in a way that other marketers and media companies might not be able to.

“If you’re able to put a 360-degree live camera inside of a car and watch the driver throttle and brake and see how close the car is to the wall — it’s such a unique opportunity,” Clark said.

Last year, NASCAR melded its editorial and marketing operations in an effort to create a more streamlined process on how the league creates content, distributes it across platforms and ties that back toward its overall marketing goals. This group now has 65 people and consists of divisions that include editorial, entertainment marketing and NASCAR Productions, which makes long-form programming to sell to TV networks, streaming platforms and other third-party content buyers.

“In silos, we can always create great social content and editorial and TV documentaries, but now that we have those elements together, we can be more efficient and have more control in how we tell a story in a lot of different ways,” said Parker.

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