Fans of the sport of drone racing will be able to get their fix online for free this year. The Drone Racing League (DRL), one of the sport’s biggest groups, announced today that its fourth season will be streaming on Twitter and Chinese video site Youku from August 11th, available for anyone to watch. Races will also be broadcast on NBC and NBCSN.
This is a bit of a departure from the DRL’s previous broadcast strategy. For its last three seasons, the group, which wants to turn drone racing into the next NASCAR, signed deals with pay TV channels like ESPN, Sky, and Disney. For the league’s first three seasons, fans could watch races online, but only if they were subscribed to the relevant provider. With the DRL’s 2019 season streaming on both Twitter and Youku for free, this is no longer the case.
DRL CEO Nicholas Horbaczewski told The Verge that the switch was being made to better reach the sport’s “young, digital native” fanbase. “Over the past three years, the number one complaint we’ve gotten from those fans is that our racing isn’t available on a major streaming platform,” Horbaczewski said over email.
He noted that over the same time period, Twitter had emerged as the go-to platform for fans to discuss DRL races, making it a “no-brainer” to broadcast the next season there.
The move also fits Twitter’s recent embrace of live sports, with the social media platform cutting deals to stream NFL, NHL, and NBA games in recent months. The company says it wants to amplify its reputation as a place where people go to react to live events — a move which the firm will be hoping can counteract its falling monthly user count.
The DRL’s fourth season will include some 44 hours of coverage. In each race, pilots have to navigate their drones through a series of gates, with their remote-controlled aircraft reaching speeds of 80 mph. As a twist this year, humans will also be competing with AI pilots, thanks to a sponsorship from aerospace firm Lockheed Martin. The first team to code a self-flying drone that can beat a human pro will get a $200,000 reward.