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OPINION

The rise & fall of GCN+ – is the livestream party over for cycling fans?

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Only launched in 2021, GCN+ and the GCN app are already leaving the room due to a “changing media industry landscape”

Like many viewers and those involved in the bike industry and the cycling media, yesterday’s unforeseen (by me, anyway) announcement that the GCN app and GCN+ streaming service was to simply cease to be in a few weeks' time came as a shock.

Love or loath the GCN commentators and presenters, cringe or applaud at some of the content they produce, it’s all part of the game, and it always has been. Having been a part of the cycling media for over 30 years, I have to admit that I do have tainted and mixed feelings about the whole GCN situation, and the potential warning signs that show how it could threaten the whole industry.

The entire cycling media industry has gone through numerous transitions in the past 20 years or so, mostly driven by the rapid rise of the internet, platforms such YouTube, digitisation, and the fact that ‘credible content’ is now often expected for free (in my opinion).

Coming off my soapbox for a moment… the cycling media is mostly comprised of a relatively small and regularly-circulating band of passionate misfits, and at some point or another we often encounter and re-encounter each other in different roles.

This is also pretty much the case with GCN, which was launched by Simon Wear, a former high-flyer at Future Publishing, the international multimedia company that has produced many of the UK’s major cycling titles for many years, and indeed gave root to road.cc amongst other titles (the founders and some staff at road.cc are ex-Future Publishing).

When GCN initially launched back in 2013, primarily as a YouTube-based platform, many of us in the media were left wondering just how this concept would work in a profitable way. But somehow it did – or at least, we assume it did. We cannot really be sure of the inner workings, and that applies to many platforms.

Later on, with the launch of their livestream race coverage and then the GCN app, they arguably revolutionised digital cycling media, and monopolised things to an extent too. This all but made traditional online race coverage almost extinct, which surely hurt some platforms and those working for them, such is progress and evolution…

Needless to say, GCN’s fast-growing dominance didn’t sit too sweetly with some in the industry, especially as countless magazines and websites have fallen by the wayside in recent years. That said, I don’t think this media decline is anything to do with GCN, because they simply provided a service that we all wanted, including those of us involved in the media.

We’d never had it so good, at least not in terms of available cycling coverage, and so none of us are happy to see the unfolding situation. The situation doesn’t bode well for an already bruised – and about to be battered – bike and cycling media industry.

Perish the thought of going back to the dark old days of Dickie Davis and Frank Bough reluctantly presenting us with a couple of minutes of weekly Tour de France coverage each year. That doesn’t bear thinking about, and we’ve come a hell of a long way since then, thankfully.  

The media landscape is changing, say GCN, much as it has done rapidly for years, and will continue to do so. What does this mean, and where does it go from here for our moving online cycling coverage?

At the moment none of us really know, and depending on where you happen to live in the world the scenario will play out very differently in terms of whether you will still be able to access the live coverage via other associated platforms or apps. Most road.cc readers will still be able to access all the same cycling content as before via Warner Bros. Discovery platforms, with the same roster of presenters and commentators - however, it could be far more complicated for those living outside of Europe and in the US, who have come to rely on GCN+ after many years of virtually no live coverage or even online highlights being available elsewhere in some regions.

As for all those documentaries on GCN+? It would be a crying shame if they were to suddenly be unavailable. I for one will be binge watching them over the next month, while hoping that there will be a favourable solution found, sooner rather than later.

The GCN YouTube channels and their website are, we’re told, set to continue. Beyond that it’s hard to see where things will lead, and there will be a lot of concerned race promotors, media and others following the situation.

Meanwhile, in true Warner Bros style: That’s all, folks...

road.cc expresses solidarity with all staff and contributors affected by the closure of GCN+ and the GCN app

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22 comments

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Motivated | 2 months ago
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Discovery+ is the same as GCN+

~7EUR per month.

so far I'm just watching all the cyclocross and track races.

same commentators in English. 

* OK, except for the shows ... I have not found those yet ... that is a loss for sure! *

my fears are alleviated, whew!  

(I'm in Austria ... so, no idea what it's like in other locales) 

In retrospect, I would say they just completely f'ed up the transisiton process and communication.

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Don Ruperto | 2 months ago
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So I've signed up to Discovery+ today.  I did this on my laptop via the GCN email voucher link, then my telly gave me a code so I could join via the laptop and then they talked to each other. The world has gone mad.  

HOWEVER I can't find how you get quick access to the cycling.  There's piles of crappy American TV on there plus 500 sports I'm not interested in.   So I'm still figuring that out, I can't be having with 10 minutes navigation each time I want to watch the cycling.  Too much faff!

In a perfect world Discovery would have a dedicated app just for cycling. 

Meanwhile, does anybody know how to make it easier to just find the racing straight off?  
 

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eltel5150 replied to Don Ruperto | 2 months ago
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You've summarised exactly why I won't be signing up to it. In addition to the extra cost...

The reduced exposure is going to really hurt the sport in the medium term.

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Rendel Harris replied to Don Ruperto | 2 months ago
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Don Ruperto wrote:

Meanwhile, does anybody know how to make it easier to just find the racing straight off? 

On my iMac, and I assume it's the same for other platforms, just click "Sports" on the home page, on the sports page click "All sports" and it should present you with a page of icons for different sports from which you can choose "Cycling", "Cycling track" or "Cyclocross":

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squired | 3 months ago
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I switched to Discovery+ earlier this year when Eurosport Player was shuttered.  The reason for making that switch rather than taking the GCN route was simply because it is offered for free as part of my Sky subscription package.

In terms of race availability, everything has been available on Discovery+.  This includes coverage without adverts and just to be clear it includes races not showing at the same time on Eurosport.  For example, I've been able to watch all of the cyclocross live and advert free this winter.

The real question is whether the same degree of coverage will continue without GCN behind the scenes working to get rights to races.  A recent example would be the Gravel Worlds, which I understand was a last minute thing.  As part of a wider sports bucket I could see events falling by the wayside.

Negatives with Discovery+?  Well, if I was having to pay £6.99 a month for it I wouldn't be happy because I don't watch anything else on it.  When using the app it shows you all of the TNT Sports (formerly BT Sports) coverage in the same schedule, so sometimes it feels a real chore to wade through it especially if that content isn't even available to you anyway.  I hope they add a filter for that at some point.  

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wtjs | 3 months ago
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I suspect it is very straightforward, the suits have noticed something people are prepared to pay for and they want them to pay more

I see the sadster has abandoned the illiterate Dutch bike shop owner persona

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mark1a replied to wtjs | 3 months ago
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wtjs wrote:

I suspect it is very straightforward, the suits have noticed something people are prepared to pay for and they want them to pay more

I see the sadster has abandoned the illiterate Dutch bike shop owner persona

Are you confusing Backladder with Buckbreaker?

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Backladder replied to mark1a | 3 months ago
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mark1a wrote:
wtjs wrote:

I suspect it is very straightforward, the suits have noticed something people are prepared to pay for and they want them to pay more

I see the sadster has abandoned the illiterate Dutch bike shop owner persona

Are you confusing Backladder with Buckbreaker?

Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

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maxdabrit | 3 months ago
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No back up plan for GCN+ in N America . Currently there is Flobikes which is way overpriced, less content and requires a credit card just to try it. Devastated. 

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PpPete | 3 months ago
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No doubt the Discovery+ subscription will be more expensive...   As I'm bilingual I shall be trying to figure out a way of accessing the French TV coverage instead. Anyone know what channel it is on over there?   

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bike_food replied to PpPete | 3 months ago
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PpPete wrote:

No doubt the Discovery+ subscription will be more expensive...   As I'm bilingual I shall be trying to figure out a way of accessing the French TV coverage instead. Anyone know what channel it is on over there?   

£29.99 per month for discovery+, but you'll also get classics like my 3000lb family and 90 day fiance

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zoejmackay@gmail.com replied to bike_food | 3 months ago
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It's only 29.99 if you want Premier League as well. 6.99 per month gets you the cycling, though I don't know if we get ads or not.

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mark1a replied to bike_food | 3 months ago
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bike_food wrote:
PpPete wrote:

No doubt the Discovery+ subscription will be more expensive...   As I'm bilingual I shall be trying to figure out a way of accessing the French TV coverage instead. Anyone know what channel it is on over there?   

£29.99 per month for discovery+, but you'll also get classics like my 3000lb family and 90 day fiance

Did you bother even researching this beyond a quick glance? The Premium plan that you reference includes Champions League & Premier League football, Premiership Rugby, MotoGP, boxing, UFC and all of the other rights they acquired when they absorbed BT Sport. That plan is just the old BT Sport rebranded as TNT Sports.

The plan that will include cycling and all the other Eurosport content is £6.99 a month. I think if you have a Sky subscription on either Sky Q, Glass or Stream platforms, they include that middle tier free of charge as part of it. I've just signed in using the Sky affiliated account and it lets me watch all of the cycling content without nagging for upgrade. Whether this includes live cycling will be see when the season starts again.

The downside - it looks like they will carry ads on live, just like Eurosport. The upside for me, the TVs in both my garage/workshop and garden cabin are Roku, and GCN never did a native Roku app, I would have to AirPlay from iPad or iPhone. I've just tried the native discovery+ Roku app in my garage and it works fine with the account attached to the Sky sub.

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tigersnapper replied to mark1a | 3 months ago
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I get this free with Sky Stream and watched some of the Vuelta live - wasn't around for much of it this year.  I don't know if there is much else as I haven't caught anything towars the end of the season and only signed up for Sky in August.

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Shep73 replied to mark1a | 3 months ago
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If you subscribe to Eurosport via the web/app, they offer an as free live broadcast. Although the UI on the new app isn't as good as the Eurosport Player, that it replaced.

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Rendel Harris replied to PpPete | 3 months ago
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PpPete wrote:

As I'm bilingual I shall be trying to figure out a way of accessing the French TV coverage instead. Anyone know what channel it is on over there?   

If you mean the Tour, France Televisions, the national broadcaster, has a contract to show it to 2030. Should still be on ITV4 free for those who want it in English though.

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Glov Zaroff | 3 months ago
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The GCN race commentators are employed by WBD for Eurosport, and as many have already posted on their various social media outlets, they’re not going anywhere. Orla, Kirby, Lloyd, Stephens, The King, Smith, Blyth etc will still be the faces and voices of live cycling via Eurosport / Discovery+ (and in Orla’s case TNT for the rugby too). GCN the YouTube channel and website ‘should’ go unchanged too – from a front end perspective anyway. Not sure what’s going on in the back office though, but I hope they can incorporate them into the bigger picture rather than lay them off. That would be a waste of talent!

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stonojnr replied to Glov Zaroff | 3 months ago
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I don't think it's that straightforward in the world of broadcasting.

most of the regulars youve named are just self employed freelancers brought in to cover specific events, hence their ability to multi discipline across sports and even broadcasters covering the same events as WBD were.

GCN may well have provided a regular stipend to those not getting picked for the main races on Eurosport, to cover all the additional events they were streaming that don't get on the main channels.

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Backladder replied to stonojnr | 3 months ago
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stonojnr wrote:

I don't think it's that straightforward in the world of broadcasting.

I suspect it is very straightforward, the suits have noticed something people are prepared to pay for and they want them to pay more.

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Gd29 replied to Backladder | 3 months ago
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But they havnt cranked the price up, they are closing GCN and losing all the subscribers, 0% retention, hoping the former subscribers magically find their way over to Discovery+. A big company like WBD can absorb the short term revenue hit of moving all GCN subscribers to Discovery+  for a few months free, as long as they provide card details so they can forget to cancel. 

WarnerBrosDiscovery isn't acting rationally in this or other recent decisions.

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ooblyboo replied to stonojnr | 3 months ago
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I'd like to see what the programme of race coverage (particularly on the road) looks like on Discovery+ before I shell out double what I was paying on GCN+. It feels like they could well reduce the output as well as forcing a cost increase. In which case, yes, I think some of the lesser known commentators, who are very likely to be freelance, could end up seeing less work. Which would be a really shame because a lot of them are very good.

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Glov Zaroff replied to ooblyboo | 3 months ago
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ooblyboo wrote:

I'd like to see what the programme of race coverage (particularly on the road) looks like on Discovery+ before I shell out double what I was paying on GCN+.

Have you bothered to go onto the Discovery+ website and check? Clearly not. It's EXACTLY the same content as GCN+ but it says Discovery+ at the top of the page. It's the same on the Eurosport website too. The only things missing are near enough the GCN+ docs and GCN+ badging. 

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