YouTube-based Global Cycling Network—GCN—is to launch a streaming TV service on February 15th. Starting with a roster of 24 feature-length travel documentaries, technology features, and biographies, a further two original-content films will be added each week from March.
The ad-free service is called GCN+ and, from launch, will be available on smart TVs, tablets, computers, Amazon Fire TV, and smartphones. Soon, the service will also be available on Apple TV. It will cost €39.99 a year, although there’s currently a launch offer of €19.99 for a year’s subscription.
The first films include a GCN+ crew riding a 186-mile off-road descent down an active volcano in Chile, an at-home profile of world champion Swiss professional cyclist Fabian Cancellara and a look at companies that are using additive technologies to 3D-print bicycles.
There will also documentaries starring round-the-world cyclist Mark Beaumont and ultra-endurance bikepacker Josh Ibbett.
One of the Beaumont films follows the first daily stage of the kick-off Tour de France of 1903. Beaumont and GCN+ staffer James Lowsley-Williams rode the grueling 293-mile route from Paris to Lyon on single-speed 100-year-old machines.
GCN’s existing subscription service, Race Pass, becomes part of GCN+ and will continue to broadcast 300 days of live professional cycle racing, including the sport’s most prestigious one-day and stage races. GCN+ is a service from cycling-focussed U.K.-based Play Sports Group, a subsidiary of Discovery, Inc.
Discovery operates the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the Oprah Winfrey Network, and multisport TV channel Eurosport.
Launched in 2013, GCN has 2.5 million subscribers, and its YouTube films generate over 40 million views per month. Play Sports Group’s other YouTube channels include Global Mountain Bike Network (GMBN) and Global Triathlon Network (GTN) and GCN channels in Spanish, Italian, German, French, and Japanese.
Wear on wealth
Play Sports Group was founded by lifelong cycle sport fan Simon Wear and employs 250 people globally, with 190 of them in Bath, England.
“We’ve only got five or six commercial staff,” said Wear.
“The rest are creatives like videographers, scriptwriters, motion graphics specialists, or technologists such as engineers and data analysts, and upfront, we have 36 presenters.”
Wear started in the bicycle business in 1992 as an advertising sales representative on Future Publishing’s Mountain Biking UK magazine. He rose to become the company’s chief operating officer, leaving to found GCN.
“I got paid lots of money [at Future], but it made me incredibly miserable. At 39, I chucked it all in to start a little cycling company, to become happier.
“Ironically, I built something more successful, and it made me a lot more wealthy than I would ever have done as an employee.”
When the Global Cycling Network needed taking to the next level, Wear sold to outside investors, including Discover, Inc.
“I sold when I got to the point where I felt, with my own personal finances, I’d taken the business as far as I could.”
He added: “It was a very, very careful decision about who were going to be the right people to invest into the business to take it to the next level.”
He still owns 30% of the business, but Discovery’s deep pockets enabled Play Sports Group to spend two years developing the GCN+ concept and generating the original content.
Wear won’t be drawn on the new channel’s production budget, but it’s clearly in the many millions of dollars.
Initially slated for launch in Spring 2020, the coronavirus lockdown put paid to that. Downtime has been spent remotely editing the footage captured before the first lockdown in March last year.
Streaming services such as Netflix
“Media and entertainment businesses, specialty providers of information, providers of home gym equipment have all done well in these awful times,” admitted Wear.
Nevertheless, launching an expensive-to-produce new TV streaming service is still a risk.
“We are very proud of what we’ve made, but whether there’s a market for it, only time is going to tell,” said Wear.
“At the end of the day, the consumer decides whether they think [a service] is good enough that they’re prepared to pay for it.”
While the race coverage and a weekly round-up show with studio presenters and celebrity guests are aimed at cycle racing fans, the new documentaries are also pitched to a general audience.
“One of the common pieces of feedback we’ve had from test audiences is that non-cycling partners and children also enjoy watching the films,” said Wear.
The YouTube-based GCN, he added, is “for people that are super hardcore racing enthusiasts who worry about their ketones, but it’s also got videos on how you fix a puncture, and how you teach kids to ride: the breadth of the audience is incredible.
“What we are trying to do with GCN+ is to expand on this, make the content even more broad and entertaining to help people get into cycling; the more porous we can make it, the more people come into cycling.”
And the more people cycling, the more people that will want to watch rich cycling content on TV.