If watching Milan-San Remo yesterday made you wonder how you would do on a 293km ride (MSR is the WorldTour’s longest one-day race), Dan Lloyd and Matt Stevens from GCN have helpfully made an instructional video on how to go the distance.
If a picture speaks a thousand words, how many for a video? Here at VeloVoices, we love the GCN (Global Cycling Network) – which started producing great cycling videos from the start of the 2013 season. I thought it would be fun to find out more about how it all works and what kind of maiden year they’ve had. GCN presenter and ex-professional rider Dan Lloyd kindly sat down with me to tell me all – and I didn’t even have to bribe him with cake.
Sheree: There are over 500 videos on your network (so far), everything from training tips to rider interviews to features. Is there a set agenda for the videos?
Dan: Not as such. We are given a budget within which we have to work but it’s pretty much up to us which events we want to cover. To be honest, as it’s our first year of operation, it’s been a big learning curve. We might do something that we think will be very popular and afterwards the YouTube metrics tell us something else entirely. Or, we might dash off something a bit tongue in cheek such as “The Top 10 New Cyclist Mistakes” which has become wildly popular.
Of course, topical interviews with riders or about races have a short shelf-life, they tend to attract viewers within a week or so of the event. While what’s termed ‘evergreen’ videos, such as our “How to…” series, can just run and run. These cover a number of technical topics.
Sheree: For example, if you want to ape Super Sagan, here’s “How to do a Wheelie”. I’ve only ever done these involuntarily!
Dan: We have regular meetings with the folks at YouTube and they help us to refine stuff based on their detailed feedback. We discuss with them the best way to approach topics, new ideas, how we might go about things and so on. But, aside from that, we’ve had a pretty free hand.
Sheree: Could you run me through a typical day at GCN?
Dan: I’m happy to say there isn’t one! I’m based down in Bournemouth and when I’m at home, I’ll go up to the office (in Bath) for two days a week, though much of the time I’ve been away filming. As the year’s panned out, the weekly video shooting now has some structure to it. We’ll put out a technical “How to…” video on Monday.
The news show comes out each Tuesday, so we’ll spend Monday morning writing and in the afternoon we’ll add the necessary images, footage, graphics etc. Plus we encourage viewer participation with Tweaks and Tweets of the Week at the end of the video.
There’s the “Top 10′ series on Thursdays and we have the cookery slot on Saturday mornings.
Of course, the week’s agenda depends on the time of year and whether we’re attending a Grand Tour or a series of races. Each evening, post-stage or race, it takes time to edit the filming, upload it and put it out. A fair amount of work will also go into the annotations. So there are lots of people working intensively over a period of a few hours.
Sheree: Not a nine-to-five job then! You’re probably away from home more than when you were riding professionally!
Dan: I spend around 120 days away from home now but, as a professional rider, taking into account training camps, it was closer to 150.
Sheree: So, how big is the GCN team?
Dan: Mike Reeves came over from television to look after the day-to-day running of GCN then there’s me, two young cameramen/editors and one other full-timer. Simon Richardson has recently left us, but we have Matt Stevens, who does bits and bobs. Plus, there’s a couple of others who dip in and out so we have close to ten people. We generally put our heads together, bounce ideas off one another, decide what we want to do and what’s the best way to go about it. In each case, we’ll then see if it’s possible to film what we want, whether it’s a race or maybe a trip to Nice for three days to shoot a load of “How to…” videos.
Sheree: Do you have any favourite GCN videos?
Dan: Mmm, let me think. It’s probably the rider diaries where we follow a number of riders during a Grand Tour. For example, during the Vuelta, two of the riders we followed both won stages: Michael Morkov and Alex Dowsett.
Sheree: Here’s the episode after Morkov’s win on stage six.
Dan: These are especially nice to do as it makes you feel part of the race. You’re out there following them day after day, you get to know, like and understand them, plus appreciate how much a win means to them and their careers. I think the GCN guys who filmed and edited the pieces did a really fantastic job to bring out the human element.
Sheree: I like those too because you pick riders who aren’t perhaps so well-known.
Dan: Yes, that was partly the idea behind the videos. Big name riders are in the public eye a lot, are naturally a bit more guarded and, of course, have so many calls on their time. So with over 200 riders to choose from, it’s nice to focus on some of the other well-respected riders who might be expected to perhaps do something in the race. Both Dowsett and Morkov won stages and the others performed really well. As a rider you lose way more than you win and so it was great to capture the emotion of those special moments to share with our viewers.
Sheree: You mentioned you get great statistics from Google and YouTube?
Dan: We get really detailed information, specifically about who’s watching and where from. Our audience is 90% male and largely, but not wholly, based in the English-speaking world of USA, UK, Canada and Australia. In addition, the non-traditional cycling countries seem to attract a different demographic to the traditional nations.
Another important measure for us is audience retention rate – how long each viewer spends watching the video. Here YouTube have provided us with both feedback and guidance. They say that the intro to any video should be very, very short as you need to hook, not turn off, viewers. It should be no longer than 10 seconds, quickly followed by some action, which captures the audience’s attention straight away. If not, they’ll switch off.
Sheree: Big Brother is most definitely watching! What was your first year target?
Dan: YouTube were initially very vague about what they wanted from us, there were no real guidelines. They just said that if we got 100,000 subscribers by the end of year one, we would have done exceptionally well. We achieved that in early October, so next year we’re aiming to add a further 150,000. With 250,000 subscribers, we’ll be a reasonably sized channel.
Sheree: GCN is part of SHIFT Active Media. Why did they start producing videos and how does it fit into their overall strategy?
Dan: It’s a media representation company, set up in 2010 by the former head of Future Plc, Simon Wear, that deals with a lot of top end [cycling] brands and events and it has grown very rapidly.
The company’s chairman, Andrew Croker is well-connected in the sporting world. He knows the head of sport at Google (owner of YouTube), which expressed interest in setting up a number of different channels on YouTube. After much discussion and many meetings, SHIFT set up GCN at the start of this year with funding from Google and YouTube.
Sheree: How are you planning to attract further subscribers? More of the same, but what else?
Dan: We’ve already started thinking about and planning for the rest of this year and next. For example, we’re going to be profiling different manufacturing companies, finding out about all the ins and outs of how these companies operate and we’ve started holding Google Hangouts with our viewers.
Sheree: Dan, many thanks for talking to us, good luck and if you’re over in Nice again, let me know and I’ll cook dinner for you and the crew.