iRewind: Personalized Race Videos
Personalized participant video, where a participant receives an edited video of themselves in the race after they cross the finish line (often as soon as a few minutes after), has been a long time coming in mass-participation events.
So how far has personalized video technology really come over the last few years? What does it add to the race experience? How much does it cost? And is the cost worth it, compared to, say, offering just race photos, as most races currently do?
Today we’ll be looking at all these questions and more, through the lense of personalized video tech pioneer iRewind. iRewind has been providing personalized video services to races - either directly or indirectly - for years, including to such high profile events as the NYC Marathon, Paris Marathon and ASICS London 10K. So it’s a great pleasure to be able to hear from iRewind co-founder and COO, Salvador Garcia Zalduegui on how personalized video technology works and how it has rapidly evolved over the last few years to the point of now making it widely affordable for a large number of races.
In this episode:
- A short history of iRewind: from skiing video capture to mass-participation personalized video
- Participant personalized video: what it is, how it's captured, and what it looks like to the end user (=participants)
- Personalized video compared to race photos, and how the two work alongside each other to expand reach and enhance the participant race experience
- The evolution of personalized video technology, and why it's time has come
- Breakdown of a typical perzonalised video capture setup
- Uploading, sorting, tagging and editing participant race videos, using image and motion recognition technology
- How you can set up personalized video in your race, and how much it costs
- Getting your personalized video costs covered by a sponsor
- Engagement statistics for personalized video
Many thanks to our podcast sponsors, RunSignup and Racecheck, for supporting our efforts to provide great, free content to the race director community:
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Salvador, welcome to the podcast!
Many thanks, Panos! Happy to be here!
Well, thank you very much for coming on. Let's start with you telling our listeners where you're based.
I'm based in Zurich, Switzerland.
Awesome. And you are the head of operations at iRewind - is that right?
Yes. And co-founder and head of operation at iRewind, leading, basically, all operations globally.
Excellent. So today, we're going to be talking a little bit more about iRewind, which is a very interesting company - far-reaching in its work with races worldwide. You guys are the vanguard of personalized video in races and various video technologies in mass participation sports. Apart from talking a little bit about iRewind, your products, and your technologies, it would be really interesting also, I think, to help educate our audience around personalized video more generally as an opportunity for race directors as an emerging technology and, sort of, the next big thing. Lots of people are very familiar, obviously, with photography in races, but video is something that has not caught up as much yet. So, it's sort of, like, an up-and-coming thing. So it'd be great to touch on that. Let's start with iRewind, though. You want to give us, maybe, like, a short version of the history of the company - how it came about and what you guys have been doing over the last few years?
Yes, of course. So, iRewind has quite a history already. So, the first seed of iRewind was planted back in December 2013 In Romania, Bucharest together with the main founder, Bogdan Manoiu, Christian Mauriand, and our CTO Mihai Nicolescu. We started working on the challenge of how can we optimize video production. And the need came, basically, when we were all skiers - we particularly love being in the snow park. So, what we wanted is having, like, a memory of ourselves doing ski or being in the snow park. Back then, you had GoPro that was really big and everybody was buying and having GoPros at home and filming themselves. So we said, "Yeah, let's also use GoPro as consumers." But we noticed quite quickly that we came to a limit of our capabilities. First of all, angles or views - having a good view of yourself skiing while you're doing the jumps. How can you have a third perspective? You would see only what you were seeing yourself by skiing, but you would not really see yourself properly. There was some usage like, maybe, an arm or you could put the GoPro, but you had to be quite a technical skier as well to keep it quite stable. So that was the first part. We were too lazy for that. Then, the second part was, like, "Okay, great. After a day of skiing, I have, like, 200 to 300 gigabytes of video because I have four or five hours, whatever, of recording. I have to go through all of that and edit it to get a one-minute or two-minute video that sums up my day, which I can share and, obviously, brag it off also to friends and family. So, that's where the need started for iRewind - that's where we started in December 2014. Looking back then in the Romanian market, we actually tried it with other businesses and said, "Let's try it. Let's test it in Romania." So, for one or two years, we worked on one side of the software, and on the other side on the capturing part. That is where we started, in December 2014, having our first installation. We were capturing skiers and creating automatized video clips based on the speed or based on the location of the user on a specific ski slope. This is how it all started with iRewind. For two or three years, we worked on the technology on the code. How can we optimize that? How can we produce that efficiently at the right cost? There were two questions for us. There was the question of editing - the software part - which was quite some work to be done there, and we were also expecting and needing new technologies. I think we're going to come to that a bit later on. Then, the other side is also the capturing part. The capturing was also something that we had to consider in all our business models, right? Having cameras on the slope or having cameras on a marathon - somebody has to put them there, somebody has to bring them there. But what can you use as a camera? That was also a big question for us. That's why it took certain years and time to make one side of the software, but also understand how we can make the capturing efficiently.
It's clear that, technologically, it's quite challenging. I think, with so many things, it may appear to them to be a straightforward thing to just capture video in a marathon or something but, actually, it's quite complicated both, as you said, on the hardware front, the installation, and making sure that the raw video is captured, but also then to actually edit it into something useful because in a marathon - similar to your experience in amateur skiing - you have hours and hours of footage, but you want to actually create a nice-looking clip at the end of that. So, with you guys, originally, what was the business model? Like, were you thinking even of this being built out into a business when you were still in the skiing use case?
None at all. So, the skiing use case for us was really more of a proof that, on one hand, the software would work and, on the other end, that they are capturing solutions. And back then, our main founder, who is Bogdan Manoiu, has a very good context to certain big brands in the Romanian market. So, they were very keen on doing something exceptional - a marketing tool. Back then, we did it with our reps. So, the premise of iRewind-- we always have the vision, potentially, in the future, that this is actually not something that consumers should pay but, actually, partners, sponsors, organizers, or owners of location should provide as an extra service to the already existing services of that location or of that event.
So that was back in 2013 when you got started? When did you do your first trial with actual races, for instance?
So, it lasted two years - we were working on the technology for testing use cases. We tested a lot. From 2013 until December 2015, we went really across the board - meaning we tried to ski. We tested in skate parks. We tested at races. We tested in swimming pools. We tested everywhere where we thought there was a sportive moment and achievement moment that we want to capture on video and test, first of all, the editing part. What is the story you have in the video? As you mentioned before, Panos, the quality and the way it's rendered together needs to be appealing. It needs to show something. It needs to bring you some content or some information that you don't have. So, the combination of that took us some time to discover, first of all, does it work properly and what is the right industry. Then, December 2015 is when we realized that, actually, one of the best markets and one of the biggest markets where we can really reach a big audience is basically the mass participation - particularly, marathons, running events, triathlons, trail runs, and all those timed events where you have a full type of population of both people that have lower salaries as well as very educated people that participates. You have a mix of the population. You can reach a lot of people and get a lot of different opinions. So, we started and our first event ever was the Geneva Marathon - that's when we tested, for the first time, the technology. But back then our camera - unfortunately, you will not see it but I'll try to describe it - is a huge camera that was the size of a human, 1.80 meters. It was a, sort of, PVC tube that was 30 centimeters in diameter. It was 25 to 30 kilos with batteries the size of one meter and tried just to capture those videos and have something that enables that you place a camera without any electricity, without anything. It can work on its own and capture the content. That's how we started. It took us, then, a good year to actually improve the capturing side. We said it's not possible, on one end, to go with GoPros and change the SD card and the battery pack every hour or every second, or use proprietary cameras from Samsung where the encoding was very complex. So, we said, "No, we really need to improve on the way of how we capture." Then, we started working a lot on the cameras to create our own cameras that would work for the purposes we needed for, and we had one year where we were really focusing on the mass participation market and testing out our software as well, particularly the capturing.
Yeah, I think it's quite interesting. Lots of people will sympathize with the situation where lots of technology start out, as you say, as a huge bulky hardware - sort of proof-of-case stuff. I think it was very similar, I guess, in the early days of race timing - like RFID timing - and then, things evolve and things get smaller and smaller. Now, you have little strips of RFID tags at the back of bibs that no one even notices. So, it's quite an interesting journey. And I guess with video, as we'll see, things have progressed quite a lot. In terms of where the company currently is and the races you're currently working with, can you give us, like, a few examples of the races you're currently collaborating with?
Yes. So, we have different types of races. We have big races - like the Paris Marathon, at Barcelona, Sevilla Marathon, or in the US, the New York Marathon, Boston Marathon - that have used our technology to provide personalized videos, directly via us or via vendor partners that we have that use our technology. This is the big site, but we have also what we call the longtail. Actually, our biggest interest is actually this longtail. Big marathons are great. It gives us an opportunity to show everybody and showcase runners participating in that one-of-a-time events like the New York Marathon or Paris to get their really top-notch souvenirs. But there is the whole long tail. Actually, when we founded iRewind, the goal was to mediatize all sports even better, because it's too expensive to mediatize for smaller events - that's one of the reasons, as well, iRewind exists. We want to reach this longtail and really have, across the line, this service. So, we focus a lot on those ones as well. We have, in Germany, for example, hundreds of events that we do in that model with different partners. One of them is INTERSPORT, the other one is B2Run in Germany, which are very interesting. B2Run is actually quite a big event still, so it's not so much of a longtail. Rather, the INTERSPORT model would be exactly those events with 800, 1,000, and 1,500 participants. And we're currently showing how valuable it is in those smaller communities because, actually, in those smaller races, the community is stronger. People know each other more. Runners know each other more. There is even more engagement and sharing and communication amongst them as they're supporting each other. So, those are the two lines we're going on. And today, we are actually working in 28 different countries.
Excellent. So, for someone who may have run the New York Marathon recently, or Paris or Boston, give our listeners a little bit of an idea of how they would have experienced the product. So basically, what is the product from a participant's point of view? How does it work? What do they get? And we'll go into the technology and some of the backend stuff and the business of it in a while. But it's quite interesting for people to just get a feel of what does the iRewind end product look like for a participant. How do they take delivery of it and what does it feel like?
I'll try as best as possible to describe it in audio because I think watching one of those videos will give it clarity. However, let's just choose two very different cases - New York and Paris Marathon. In Paris, for example, we were working with ASICS as a partner that is offering the personalized video to every single participant of the Paris Marathon. The marathon runners in Paris have the option to receive or not the service of iRewind. So, this is also something we're very keen on - the GDPR. Obviously, we are in Europe, so it is a very important component. So, we make sure we only deliver videos to those runners that specifically have requested it. In most of the cases, there was above 80% or 85% conversion because most people really enjoy getting that souvenir. Again, in Paris, we were working together with ASICS. It's available for free to every participant. Our model with ASICS is that we created together with ASICS what we call a 3D personalized animated map, where we track the whole race of the participant, and you can see yourself moving across the map, your performance, at different strategic points of the course. There is a camera. During that map animation, there is a zoom-in on where the camera location is, and you can see yourself passing at kilometer 5, at kilometer 20, or at kilometer 30. For example, in Paris, kilometer 30 is the shot where you have the Eiffel Tower. So there, we have, maybe, a camera where you are less big in size on the video, but we have a fisheye where you see yourself running next to the Eiffel tower that is on your right-hand side. Then, you continue on the map. You get until the finish line and then you have the big zoom-in on the finish line where you have your last 100 meters recorded on video, with a pre-finish and finish timer. This is all in a 3D map animation, in colors, branding, and styles of ASICS, but it's done in such a way that it's really personalized to the event of Paris, with mood videos from Paris and videos from the course. When you have the map animation, you also have a feeling of real-life emotion, how you were in the block of runners, looking left, looking right, the energy, and then you see yourself in the camera. So, this is something we have really worked closely on with ASICS and the Paris Marathon and the other races we are doing with ASICS in Europe to create a real feeling of how I am in the crowd, an overview of what I did, and a view of myself running. This is then sent to every participant from the Paris Marathon - one video is sent live during the event. As soon as the participant crossed the line, let's say, half an hour to an hour later, a newsletter is sent to the participant with the finished video. So, they already have, as soon as they finish the race, their finished video, noting that this is the fastest delivery. We are even as fast as the official timing results with the personalized video. 24 hours to 48 hours later, another email is sent to the participant with a longer version of the video. It's a video that is about two minutes to three minutes, but is composed of more parts of your journey, more content of ASICS, as well as more content of the Paris Marathon. The short video that is sent on the same day is the short version of your finish line so you have something to share about your achievement at the moment. Those videos are available on the ASICS landing page of the marathon hubs of ASICS - those are official public landing pages that ASICS nurture to give information and support the runners to get ready for the marathon. There is where you get to a personalized landing page and find your video and only you, as a runner, are able to see your video. Only you are the master of it. If you want to share the video publicly, if you want to delete it, or if you want to do whatever with it, you have complete control over the video directly in the ecosystem of ASICS. That's the Paris example. That's the model that we think is extremely good for the future, having partners and sponsors supporting that and providing the service. On the other hand, we have New York Marathon. In New York Marathon, we are working with our partner, which is MarathonFoto, which is a great photo company from the US. They're very big. They have, of course, slowed down during COVID and are growing back immensely, providing great service, and they're using now our technology today to deliver their personalized video service. So, we're really more like a total tech supplier and do not involve ourselves in their operation in the way the video looks and in the way they will provide the videos to the participant. However, in the case of North America, the videos were not offered for free and were not offered in one package. Actually, yes, they were offered as a sale package with photo or individually. So, basically, in that case, the consumer is buying the video. In New York, with our partner, MarathonFoto, we also created a very specific design. We selected a location on the course that is meaningful to the runners, particularly the last 200 miles when they were entering the Central Park. We had a big focus on this last mile in the New York Marathon with, also, again, very strategic placement of cameras. The videos are available in that case, to consumers, to buyers, within 24 hours after the race. They're available directly with your photos, in the same page, where you see your photos and where you get your photos. The video player is there. You can download it from there. You can also share it, although there is not much reason to share it from there. Usually, consumers would rather download and then share it by themselves on over whatever platform. So, this is the way it happens in New York. Then, obviously, when you're doing the New York Marathon, I think, I don't have to tell anyone that this is the most absurd and crazy, even in positive terms - right? Every consumer is going abit crazy on photo, on goodies, on T-shirts, on shoes, and video is part of that. So, therefore, it's a model that is used by our partner. It also was very successfully implemented for the first time in Europe. MarathonFoto was able to deliver to the New York participants a really cool experience video of their race at North America.
So, when you were describing this earlier, I do actually believe, as you say, that it's difficult to convey this video product by just talking about it. People should probably hit your website and have a look at a couple of those to see how they feel like. To me, that description - I think, probably, to some of our listeners as well - reminded me a little bit of that Relive product. Are you familiar with that?
Exactly. That was one point of inspiration for us. I think Relive is doing a great job and it's really great for training. We had to get a bit further. Relive would say, "Yes, you share" but has less of an emotional factor and has less importance in creating a wow effect. So, in our case, when we created the 3D maps, in the case of ASICS, those are fully built from zero. Every layer of the city and every layer of the course is rebuilt by a specific 3D designer. So, making a map for Greece Marathon takes roughly 7 to 10 days of work just to create the map, create the layers, and create the possibility of truly personalizing the map to text location, your time, your pace, and maybe the flag of your country, and whatever information or data we have on the participant that is freely available or available to us through GDPR - those are also used in the video. That's the way we did it. But yes, this was one of the sources of inspiration.
Okay, great. For the people who are not familiar with Relive-- as you say, lots of people use it for training runs or even races. Basically, you upload, like, a GPS or GPX file or something that shows you where you've been, has data on your speed, etc, and then you just superimpose it on a map, I think, with a nice music track or something in the background, and it basically retraces how you run through a city or through a race. Then, you said that was an inspiration. Then, you added a lot more elements to it. That's true if you see the video because, obviously, you have footage of people running that you then add together, and we're gonna get into that in a sec. You mentioned the emotional element and you keep returning to that, which I think is super important. I keep saying that the race experience is why people go to races - it's not to go and compete against other people and see who's the fastest or whatever. It's all about the race experience. So as a runner, I enjoy receiving race photos, particularly, when they're free. I think, like, back a decade ago, when I ran the Rome Marathon - it was, like, in 2012 - we had videos like that not edited nicely, like you did.
It was a stream.
Yeah. Basically, at the timing point, there were just videos rolling. You could wait and see yourself roughly with a timestamp on that, which wasn't mind-blowing, but it was a nice element basically. What is it about video? How much of a game-changer is it over photos? How much of a difference does it make if I bring video to my race compared to having, say, some amazing race photos? Is it gonna make as much of an impact in terms of the race experience and the enjoyment for people?
I have this question quite often and there is always, like, people say, "Picture is a thousand words. A video is a thousand pictures." I do not agree exactly with that. It's the same as when there were ebooks, books are dying - it's not true. Books are still there. Reading a nice book is still there, right? So, I see that video and photo are actually extremely complimentary and provide two very different emotions - again, we're coming back to that word - when you're consuming that content. Let's say, a photo is a static moment where you are, in one second of your life, captured doing a certain movement, often, in high quality, very defined, and with a lot of granularity. You analyze yourself in a fixed moment. The video, on the other end, is something animated. You have, maybe, a bit less granularity, but you have you in the movement of that very specific static emotion you have. Therefore, for me, those are one of the main differences between both photos and videos. Video, what it brings on top of photos - particularly, in the digital age we're living in now - is animated content. It's content that lasts. As it's animated content that lasts, it also gives you the opportunity of bringing in a lot of emotions, a lot of symbols, a lot of slogans, and information that you cannot necessarily do on a picture. A picture would be crowded quite quickly if you try to bring too much branding on it or too much timing information. It wouldn't look as nice as the picture you want to clean. But a video, on the country, you wanted it edited, you wanted moments, you want your travel through your journey and try to recap that you have lived through it. So, for me, that's how you can differentiate. It's not the greatest explanation, but I think it shows a bit of the difference. And as I said at the beginning, I truly believe they're very complimentary. For example, what we did in Boston Marathon is we had video combined with photos. So, you had points where it was a video of yourself and other points on the course where it was photo captures of you. This combination enables you to have both worlds into one. A nice static photo can also be something you could present at the end of the video - if it's 25 frames per second, it's 25 photos per second. So, if in a video, you have nice moments, you can extract the stills that have the quality of a photo. And if you combine the photo into the video, then you definitely have those stills, those frames, that are a pure photo. But at the same time, you have also the animation and the video part in it. That's how I see it.
Well, today we’re talking about yet another technology - instant personalized video, in this case - that helps enhance the race experience for your participants. And, let’s face it, the race experience is why people come out to take part in our events, and why they might keep coming back. Save for putting on a safe event with no major disasters, thinking of how race participants experience your event should really be every race director’s top priority.
RunSignup has, of course, many tools and features that can help enhance your participant’s race experience before and after the race (with, for example, smooth race day check-in or live race results), but it also has a full dedicated app built around your participant’s experience around the race course. And that’s RaceJoy.
For those of you not familiar with RaceJoy, RaceJoy is a GPS-based runner-tracking app that your participants can carry on their phone that will do a number of things. It will record and report back to you splits and finish times, which is a great tool for you. But, equally importantly, it will give your runners progress alerts straight to their headphones without the need for additional timing equipment, and it will also make your race course interactive, allowing spectators to track and send audio cheers to your runners as they go around the course - even remote spectators who can’t make it to the race on race day.
And what that all does is make race day so much more special for everyone taking part in your race.
So to learn more about RaceJoy and how you can get RaceJoy for your race go to racejoy.net, where you’ll get all the info on how the app works and you’ll be able to find a timer offering RaceJoy in your area.
Ok, and with that, let’s get back to the episode…
So going back to that example I mentioned about how video capture used to be almost 10 years ago, what's your sense in terms of how quickly the industry is adopting video? You see from a business point of view. I stumbled across examples of some races, mostly on the prestigious end, who keep using video more and more. But what is happening with the rest of the industry? Are people getting convinced of the benefits of video and adopting it more?
It's not as an easy answer as an answer. Why? Because there is somehow an asymmetry in how the market consumes and knows about the existence of certain technology or service. When we came out back in 2015 or 2016, with fully edited videos that you can download on the spot, where you have your name, your time, and your pace integrated into it provided in a very short time, within 24 hours or shorter, that was already a game changer to all that was provided before, which was what you describe. A stream video, at a certain point, you look around it, based on your timing, the snippet is already put on the 30 seconds where you usually pass across the camera. So, that was already one of the big changes. Back then, there were certain parts of the consumer that were really very impressed by it - hence, the need for it. But as the consumer in the market, in our sports industry - mass industry - was still not there. It was not that important. It was not the stuff that would make you different from another race, necessarily. A few big ones and sponsors said, "Yes", but it was not, like, really through - not everybody was really seeing the value or already acknowledging that it is important. But in the last three years and since COVID, that has changed immensely. Everybody in our industry is talking only about video. Why? Because since 2015 and 2016, slowly, the whole web needs the video for communication purposes - be it social media, be it newspapers. Whatever type of information is always provided in a short 30-second video. We even have automatized videos where you have robotic text that just describes what was written in the newspaper. So, everything has started to be communicated with video. One of the industries that didn't use that much video was actually the industry we're talking about today, which is mass participation. Yes, they did use video for promotional purposes, and a nice promo video that sits on the website that is available on YouTube to use for marketing purposes. But further than that, the event was living in an analog world. And slowly, I think the notice is that this mass participation industry can live well together between analog and digital - it just needs to combine those properly. I think the realization today is that video is one of the components that can realize that connect both worlds. It's not only the connection between both worlds, it's also a topic that is being discussed. It's also bringing partners and sponsors. We or organizers need, in our industry, support from partners and sponsors. If not, we couldn't do most of the events that exist around the world. But we also have to satisfy those partners and sponsors. We have to bring them new mediums to be able to, on one hand, calculate their ROI but, on the other end, also keep them interested and motivated for the future by bringing always new things that will make their brand or their partnership stand out with you. Therefore, we have seen - since COVID, particularly - an extremely strong shift, a lot of requests, much more events than we have ever expected to have on contract for 2022. We were expecting to have the same year like in 2019. We're currently looking at doubling or nearly tripling what we did in 2019. So, there is a huge interest happening right now which, for me, as a person, is funny because what I provide is already nearly old school. But then, it has often been like that - technology is often available earlier than the consumer can really consume it and acknowledge its value. It has been like that, I think, across the line in the tech industry. There were technologies that were available like electronic scooters back in 2010, but nobody was doing it. There was an efficiency problem, production problem, and distribution problem. There are problems, obviously, why technology is not readily available from the day that they're available and need time to get into the market. And that's the same feeling we have with our technology and our product.
Yeah, there definitely comes, kind of, a magic moment where everything falls into place - the technology, the consumer mindset to be ready and to be demanding that technology. I think in the case of personalized video in races and so many other products I see that are trying to get into mass participation sports, the business model is extremely important as well, which we're gonna get into a little bit later, which is basically "Who pays for all this?" It's extremely important for the adoption of the technology and to basically make a case for "Why these videos?", for instance. Rather than the participant paying for it or the race director paying for it, although there are benefits for both these stakeholders, why perhaps a sponsor should be paying for all this? I think it's going to be the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place to make adoption of this a lot broader because it's an important factor. We'll go into cost and things like that in a sec so that people understand a little bit about how it works and what to expect. But before we get into that, in terms of the technology, speaking to race directors who are our audience today, let's give them a slightly more detailed view of what the technology looks like. We were talking earlier about, a few years back, cameras were, like, two meters high with batteries that you probably couldn't move on your own. What does the hardware look like today? Where are we at?
So, we have now, in total, truly, five generations of cameras, although there have been some generations, in the meantime. Today, we came finally to the point-- and it might sound to the audience as "That's a bit easy and simple.", but it's much more complex than you can think of - it's basically the smartphone. So now, today, our smart camera is a smartphone - the smartphone you use on a daily basis. Why? On one hand, they have great cameras. They have a technology that is the same as nearly a GoPro or a camcorder. They have ease of use - everybody knows how to use a smartphone. They have the connectivity, so you can directly be connected to the internet - you have a SIM card that you can put in it that's efficiently working with the network. First of all, it's small, easy to handle, not heavy, and easy to transport. So, those are several of the elements that made us make our last generation of cameras a smartphone, basically. What we have is a very special software that we install on the smartphone to make the smartphone into the smart camera we need. So, we're really taking, sort of, the components of the smartphone to generate and to produce the video files exactly as we need them. We have been using this camera - the smartphone - for one year now at all the races. Be it the big New York Marathon and the Paris Marathon, or be it the small local event next to your home, everybody's using the same. So we have always made the point that, if we just create hardware that is easier for scalability - which is the case with the smartphone - we want also to show that it's not only for the scalable product, but it's also being used in the most premium cases, and to let them know that what we use and what you will be using is the best and the same that everybody has in the market. So, it's a smartphone. And around the smartphone, we have built a few components to make it a bit sturdier, hold longer, and get a better quality image. On one side, what we have and what you can order on the iRewind website is a 3D casing. It's a 3d casing being printed at classical 3d printing houses where, inside, you can put your phone. It looks basically like a camera. It has the look and feel of a camera. In the case, there is a battery pack holder where the battery pack is put, so you can have, with the smartphone, 14, 15, or 16 hours of non-stop recording. No need for any plugins or whatever. And on top of it with a Californian company that is called Moment Lens - we buy lenses and tele lenses to add more focus - natural focus, not digital focus - to have a close-up image of the runners. So that's the hardware today, basically.
So, basically you have your phone and then you put it in this box that you provide - that provides, sort of, weather resistance and just shields the whole thing from the elements. And on top of it, you're saying you have a, kind of, more professional lens in front of the digital lens that your phone has to, basically, get a better result out of that.
Exactly. There's a big company in California that is specialized in lenses and camera accessories. They started a lot with Nikon and smart headphones. Now, they're one of the biggest providers actually, in the US, in my opinion, of high-quality accessory material for cameras and smartphones.
And when I set those cameras, those phones, etc, around the course - I guess, maybe put them on a stand or a tripod or whatever on top of that - are they then connected to something during the race or do they record and store everything in their own, sort of, like, hard drive? Or are they actually transmitting continuously through the race? How does that work?
So, it's both. It depends on the location. It depends on the condition. It depends on the availability of the network. It depends on a few factors. Basically, the premise is "Yes, the phone is always connected online and can upload the content live while it's recording." That's the basic purpose of it. As it's a smartphone - that was one of the reasons - you can just use whatever SIM cards from whatever provider in your local market, put it in the phone, make sure that we have the biggest data so that you can upload freely and, say, unlimitedly. You can also check if you have a local WiFi where you can connect to, again, with a smartphone - super easy, super standard. People can just connect to a local WiFi and you can upload live. In case the internet to the WiFi is not good enough, we highly recommend not to upload during the race because it does use a lot of CPU power to try to just push files that couldn't go out, and it would just detriment the recording. So, if it's a bad location, the upload is off. However, the camera is always connected online and that's one of the important usability features of our camera - you can see the camera from wherever in the world. Today, as I'm sitting with you, Panos, I can see now my cameras being installed in Germany at Neva - I can see them live. I can press recording from here at my Zurich office for cameras that are somewhere in Germany or in Australia. I can fine-tune the camera. I can stop the recording. I can start the upload. I can change the lighting settings - more exposure, less exposure. So basically, the phones become a type of cockpit - a person that handles those cameras from distance and you have two junior people or even helpers to just go and install the camera. As it's a small and light smartphone, it has a camera app. Everything is very user-friendly. As you said before, you mount it either on a tripod, a boom arm, on a clamp, or whatever system you want. As the camera is around one kilo, you can mount it on nearly anything you wish. So, this is one of the main ways that we also implemented and why we wanted a smartphone.
So, it's interesting. You're saying that there are two separable streams there. One is that the cameras that you put on the course always, sort of, transmit the live image back to an operator. So, you as the race director can see all the cameras live at any moment and, I guess, maybe, even choose to put that on your website somewhere so that other people can see it as well.
It's not a video stream. If I may interrupt you, Panos, it's not a video stream because as it is actually the fact that there are low network capabilities, it's actually just a screenshot every 10 seconds that is uploaded from the video. Basically, by the 10th second, what is the quality and light? Also, because that is a low network, the picture is often lower quality - it's reduced or compressed to have ease of operation as well on the ground.
Okay, great. So it's more, I guess, a kind of check to make sure that the camera is still working and, basically, to see the state of it. It's more, like, an operational control thing that you get an image back from that.
Yeah, but you get it every 10 seconds. So, if you make your changes, it still works as if you have a live stream when you installed the camera and there is nothing happening on the ground - we just see an art and some trees. So you don't need really the active image actually to make all your art direction, let's say.
Okay. Then, separately, the video-- you can choose whether - depending on network availability, etc - to upload, like, on a streaming basis or just to save on the device and then you upload it later.
Exactly. You can save on the device depending on the smartphone, but today every smartphone has at least 110 or 125 gigabytes of memory. The older ones, obviously, three or four years ago, do not - today, yes. So you have enough space on it to record up to 14 hours because we and our app are one of the components. It's already live, chunking, compressing, and storing the files in a very peculiar way on the phone. So from your usual smartphone, if you do 10 hours of recording with your smartphone, you might have, let's say, 300 or 400 gigabyte - it highly depends on what phone. If you film in 50 or 100 FPS, let's say it's around 300 gigabytes. Comparatively, with the same settings, we then have only 70 gigabytes. So, it's 70% less data than what the usual smartphone would produce so that we can store much more locally. But as well, it enables us to upload much faster into the cloud.
Great. So let's actually get on to the cloud and see what's happening there. So, that was the hardware side of things - what's happening on the race course with the cameras. Then, once the raw video gets uploaded to the cloud, again, whether it's being done live or whether it's done after the race, what then happens there in the cloud? I guess you need to clip it, tag it, identify who's in it and, like, all kinds of smart stuff. So, do you want to tell us a little bit about the technology on the cloud end of this?
I don't know if I can define it as a technology but I'll describe it rather as a process, which should, in the same way, describe what is the technology behind it. So, how it works is, basically, the stream and all the content files are being uploaded. Once the upload is confirmed as closed, we set the system into production mode. To set the system in production mode, we need the timing information or data about the participant. So, we need the name, server name, bib number, and timing information, so that we can allocate the right video to the right participants. This is being uploaded. This is being put into that productive state. The system starts generating a few test videos. Often, there are a few errors because there are timing differences between the timing that we received and the timing of our cameras, so we have to correct that error rate. There is a slow process going on in our system where it tries to test and produce a few tests. We do have a human that is just checking a few of those videos and looking at, "Is it correct? Is there an error in the rule of the system?" Then, in most cases, there are a few corrections to be done because the timing and the camera are not exactly the same. This is a bit corrected. Once this is corrected and when this is applied, we send all the videos to generate automatically. We press the button and all the rest of the videos will be generated. So, there is a first process, as I said. We put everything in the system. The system spits out something it can. We check what it spits out. We check that the rules are correct, and that we don't need to modify anything. Once this is given, we put the system to full production, and then it produces on its own and makes everything by itself.
So what that means is basically that-- let's say that I upload from five different locations - so I have five different cameras. So, there's a stream from each of those?
It's not a stream - it's a real file we upload. It's not a video stream. So it's a real video file we upload. The way our system works - I'm sorry to interrupt you, Panos - is, if you are a video editor, you're receiving from camera 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, a video file on an SD card, let's take it very pragmatically. That's what you receive as a video editor. You take that into your computer. You load it to Adobe - I'm not advertising but it's the one that we all mainly use. We upload it to Adobe. We start editing as a video editor. The video we take - shot one, shot two - we see nicely, we make the small color grading, we make a bit of crop and try to follow up to create a bit of dynamism in the video because, obviously, we feel a static angle of view. Then, once the video editor is ready, he says "Adobe, generate the video" and it generates a real video. That's what our system does in a whole fully automatic way.
Right. And how do you recognize, basically, who's in that video? So, you can clip that specific clip of that specific runner, and then add it to another clip of that same runner from some other part of the course to make the final edited video? How do you do that?
There are several layers of how we do that. The first one is that we always use the timing layer as a first information basis. It has been often a discussion for me and different partners or players in the industry of why we do that. And one of the big reasons why we do that is it's important for us that 100% of the participant at the race can get exactly the same content. We don't want differentiation. We're lucky enough that, with videos, as we're capturing always a fixed angle, we know we have every single participant that crossed at this point, compared to photographs that had to follow and shoot the participant. So that's the first phase. Due to that premise, if you were basing yourself just on OCR technology, motion-recognition technology, which is the second layer that we use for editing purposes, we wouldn't be able to achieve that 100% of the participant get the same content. That's particularly a problem when you offer the video to everybody for free. Then, you have the risk that somebody didn't have his bib number on his chest because it's hidden somewhere under the jacket, or you are in a wheelchair so your bib number is pressed down, so we cannot provide it. Then, there is, obviously, frustration for those that didn't receive it. They're like, "Hey, am I not good enough? Why didn't you see me? Is it because I'm in a wheelchair? Can I not get my video because you cannot identify me?" Those are then questions that are not a big problem, but not nice to have. And to really bypass that, we said, "We'll always have, as a first premise, the timing and trying to identify every single participant based on timing." Then, what we do with the second layer is we prove that in the identification with optical character recognition, which would be finding the bib number and reading the bib number and motion recognition, which is the movement of the body. Everybody has a particular DNA in the way he moves, in the way he runs, and in the way he jumps. It really can be brought to the point that we say that it's like fingerprint DNA. Everybody has a peculiar motion, and this is also used for recognition. Then, depending on the quality of that, we can have a better or shorter editing of the person, meaning we still have the same shot for everybody. Everybody will still have a bit of crop and follow - zoom in or zoom out - on the camera. But a few participants will get even a bit more exact, meaning he'll get exactly the five seconds that are perfect for him - compared to another person where we couldn't see the big number, it might have been 10 or 11 seconds. So, there are many rules in our system. We'll start making the decision to adapt a bit the movie, but yet we provide every single person the same shot, from the same location, with the same look and feel, with the same timing database, etc.
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Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode…
So that's super fascinating. I mean, the first layer you mentioned there - I think it was what people used to use even 10 years ago - which is, basically, to say you're at the 5K mark in 27 minutes, so I'll look for you then around for a while. Then, now, you have optical character recognition, as you say. So then, you try to find my bib through pattern recognition - which, again, I was familiar with that. Then, you're saying that there's a third layer, which sort of looks for your motion signature - the way you move specifically, Salvador - and it picks up on the fact that it's you.
It picks up on the fact that helps you identify the user even better. For example, you have incorrect data on the OCR because the number is a bit bent - you have a '2' that could be an '8' or a '7' that could be a '1' or something like that - because you also have to consider their different fonts used on bib numbers. So, depending on how it is, there is influence - the motion analysis will help you recognize it. This is also something we use at our fixed installation on ski slopes. When we try to identify somebody in a halfpipe, how do we identify them? Everybody has a black suit, a black helmet, and glasses. How do I make a difference? It's identifying a single part - either on the image or on the movement of the person - and combining this information to identify him. It's never 100% that goes in that direction.
Wow, really impressive. And then, the process that you mentioned - which, obviously, I'm sure the detail of it gets a lot more complicated than what we described here for people - how long does it take? So, from the point when all the video has been uploaded to the point at which the edited videos are ready for participants to take delivery of, typically, how long does this process last?
The answer highly depends on the condition. On one end, we can deliver the video within five minutes you cross the finish line. We have to stream live. Of course, for those conditions, we need perfect Internet. We need perfect timing information. We need a perfect tree ruling of how the system is done, so it's much more costly to have your video ready within five minutes after you cross the finish line. So, it's as fast as that. The slowest this can go - this is mainly because there is, maybe, a wrong timing or because there were upload delays, but let's go from the premise that we have every timing available - the most it takes is 24 hours. When we talk about the business model, it's where there is price differentiation, right? If you want it super quick - it cost a bit more because you have also more integration and more checks to do - then, you should say, "Okay, I want it in 24 hours." In between five minutes and 24 hours, everything can happen. Certain events are in 12 hours, others are in 16, others are in 20, it depends. But even if we have 80,000 or 100,000 videos to generate, we can still make those within those 24 hours. So, when we have the recent huge event in Switzerland - it's a very big event with nearly 50,000 participants - we generate those 50,000 videos, it took us roughly 12 hours to produce them all across the line last year.
So let's actually talk about costs. All of this sounds amazing. I'm sure if it was free, everyone would be doing it. But let's talk about cost a little bit. This, to me, without knowing anything about it, would sound expensive. It would sound like something that might make sense, as you were mentioning, for New York and Boston and Paris and stuff, but probably not for a local trail race. So how do the costs break down? As you say, it depends on lots of factors. Give us an idea of the whole map of what I would be expecting to pay depending on my race and my conditions?
The pricing is based on two primary factors. A variable fee per video we generate because each time we generate and render a video, there is a cloud cost behind, a cost of storage, of course, to viewership, a cost to download, and a cost per sharing. On the other end, there is an activation fee for the event. The combination of both defines the price that you pay per participant. It goes from a few cents, like, around 30¢ a participant, and it goes up to €2 or €3 per participant. The difference here in between will be mainly the activation fee and the variable fee for the participant. If you have a very complex, big design video, with the map animation and all that, there is so much more preparation to activate the event. That's why we call it an activation fee because there is so much more work we have to provide and support the customer in preparing those bits. Same on the variable fee. If the video is much longer and much more complex, the cost of production is a bit higher. If you want it live, it's another component that would raise the price. But if you're doing really the standard, just a simple intro and outro over in the video, you're talking a few tens of cents per participant. Obviously, if you have a race with only 100 participants, it will not be at 30¢ cost because the minimum activation fee will still come to €1 or €2. Not that it's negative. I find them great as well - the smaller ones. I think those are exactly the ones I'm going for, but this is where we start. So, these are the two components we use always to calculate the prices and from 20¢ or 30¢ up to €2 or €3. Yes, they have been even more expensive than that. There have been events where the price could go even on the 20¢ - that's typically a huge event. Like the event I said before in Geneva, with 50,000 participants, when it has a super simple just finished video, then it can go to 10¢ because you're spreading your cost across more participants. So, those are the two components we're playing around with, which creates, for us, a little bit of difficulty in finding the perfect business model. We know that, for today, we're very attractive for smaller events but, for certain markets like, let's say, an African market, which we're not going into, we're still a bit too expensive because even 50¢ or $1 per participant in Africa is a lot. The problem is we cannot reduce it more in Africa or in Brazil, or make prices depend on your country or region. It's very difficult because the cloud cost of Google or Amazon is the same in Brazil, in the US, in London, and in Switzerland. So, this is also our constraint where we cannot fully be free and really having match our prices to also socio-economical conditions. We try to do it in certain countries where we won't like, now, in South America where we are going in and we're trying to really see how we can optimize and reduce and bid the effort to get to a price that is right for the local market. But these are specific efforts we're trying to do. And we're still waiting also for cloud technology to be always cheaper, and it became always cheaper. Four years ago, five years ago, I could have never offered it for this price because, just ourselves, we would pay a few tens of cents to Google to render storage and make our video available.
Well, as you say, going back to the point we mentioned earlier about sponsors and who picks up the bill, getting a sponsor to pay for the service can be really key in many cases because a sponsor could get lots of benefits out of this, by branding the videos, by being associated with offering that to a participant - like what ASICS, you mentioned, was doing for the Paris marathon. How much traction do race directors that you work with on the service are getting from sponsors to be involved and pay for this on behalf of the race?
As I said, the market has changed in the last six months, so let's take it a bit cautiously because I will base myself, particularly, on how I've been working pre-COVID. Now, this has changed a bit for the better, which is great for the organizer and for us as a company as well. Back then, the main way was that we were actually going to the sponsor or organizer, not even thinking from the perspective that we were going from Paris to ASICS. We were just going to big brands that do have an interest in that market, pitch them the idea of what they could achieve with that engagement, and circle back to the organizer with the sponsor saying, "Look, I have the sponsorship contract with you. I would like to add this service as something I have the right to provide to all your participants." So after today, we have been doing a lot of effort of making the sponsored video available at races by bringing ourselves to the idea. We didn't bring necessarily new sponsors to the organizer - that would be a wrong message here. We do not bring new sponsors. There is an opportunity where it happens, but it's not our work. What we do is rather work with existing brands that are sponsoring, that have sponsored characters and are interested in the industry, and try to pitch them and find venues in which then they can implement that. That's the way it was. But now, slowly, we also notice organizers and a younger generation coming into the sports organization and corporation that are more capable of selling those values, those opportunities, to their own sponsors and partners because, also, the sponsors and partners are noticing, "Hey, I want something else instead of just a banner on your website, a banner in the finish line, and some pen I have offered in the goodie bag." So, there is, like, a movement from both sides currently happening. So, I cannot say exactly how we'd look like at the end of the year, but it goes in the right direction and the dynamic that is happening and the exchange in the conversation is extremely positive. Paris Marathon, for example, is a company that was providing already personalized video via its photo partner. They were selling the video but they were not saying that "We are the best." They were, by far, not the quality that we were providing. Also because they had other premises - no judgment on that. They did great work. But once we did with Paris and ASICS, a great video we did together to really notice the positive impact it can have, and got themselves out actively involved really in working with ASICS, we noticed that across the organizer, once they're in and once they see the satisfaction, not only of their partners, but also from the participant, and how cool it is, actually, it's free marketing. It's the same question, "Why do organizers give a T-shirt to every runner?" Because they're running in the street, going to fitness, going to work, and running, it's healthy and marketing. It's emotional memory, but also marketing. Let's not be too utopist here. It's marketing at the end. Video is the same. Video is so much more stronger on social media. When we see in Paris Marathon that Jack or Marie shared on their social media on Instagram or wherever and got another 500-600 views, there would be people clapping, congratulating them for the effort, combining all that success, and linking it to ASICS, because they enabled them to see it at Paris marathon. It's extremely positive.
Yeah, I totally agree. I think the case for this being used as a marketing tool is that people have been trying to make race photos for years. Now, in this regard, photos and video have very similar business model challenges to solve because, with both of them, you can give them away for free as a marketing tool or you can sell them as an additional revenue stream. For the free ones, you can pick up the bill as a race director or you can get a sponsor to be involved. It's very similar in terms of the options you have. Definitely, for photos, the shift has been constant and gradual in favor of race photos being used as marketing rather than charging someone, which I think is completely extortionate these days in 2022 - charging someone, like, $15 or €20 or whatever, for a set of photos from the race. There seems to be a shift away from that. In terms of the engagement that you mentioned there, people put those up on social media and they keep sharing them, which is amazing. I think if you actually do the numbers, which I hope that we can, sort of, roughly do a back-of-the-envelope here. People will see that you get tons of reach out of even a few hundred participant videos. So, let's start with how many people, typically - in a race that offers this product - would actually download the videos.
So what is interesting is we have - I would mention that now here - 2 stats to look at, which is the amount of videos regenerated and put at the disposal of the consumers of the participants, and the amount of participant that realizes that it's available and knew that it exists. We have a gap there. We always notice that when people receive a newsletter with the video, there is always a percentage of people that don't notice - open another email with some result or whatever - and just delete it or not even click. So, I'll talk from the premise of people that know the video is available and have clicked on the newsletter where there is the video in it - they have been aware of it. In this population, let's say, of runners, the engagement of download is nearly 100% or, let's say, download and sharing is more than 100%. That means, if 4,000 videos have been downloaded, at least 4000 videos have been downloaded or shared as well - actually, even more. So, there is a huge engagement from people that know they existed and have watched their video. There are just on websites - like, on the sponsor website or organizer website - where the "Share just the link" already has an average of 15 to 20 views just on the website of wherever the video sits on. Then, you have to count the thousands of videos that are being downloaded and uploaded and other social media - generating another hundreds and thousands of uses. So, we must say we have extremely strong engagement. There are, of course, certain races where we have a bit less and a bit more engagement. The races where we have up to 400% of engagement-- meaning for every thousand videos viewed or generated, there are over 5,000 downloads, sharing, engagement, and all that, and there is also the other side of the medal. So, because it was very rainy or the organization didn't work, the event didn't go well - we see it as well in the video number. People are less keen. They have a bad souvenir. They even are not so happy to consume, but still consumed with less appetite, with less emotion, and with less strength. Maybe, coming back to what we mentioned, sort of, between photo and video, the big difference as well for partners or for whoever offers that for free is that, with video, you have so many more opportunities to engage the consumer because you have 30 seconds, one minute, or one minute 30 seconds of video content where you can send messages, make a call to action, or share something. It can be on a website - it's just the player. So, it can be combined with personalized ads, which is a bit more complex on the photo side. Therefore, we hope with iRewind that, via video, this market will really live up to its standard, as you say, that everybody gets free photos and videos. But I think those two have to be combined to give the proper air right to the sponsor, to the organizer, and the proper satisfaction of the runners - I think both have to be done together. Photo alone is not strong enough, unfortunately, in digital - it's already much stronger than anything they would do, but video brings you one step further in that sense. That's why also, mainly, videos are used in social media - 10-15 second videos - instead of a photo. That's the main difference, but they're complementary because you have the beauty of the photo, and you have the animation and the dynamic of the video.
Absolutely. I think it's definitely the way forward. Speaking of the way forward, just to wrap up here with a little bit of a crystal ball into where things may be going - we already discussed the leaps and bounds by which the technology has grown over the last few years - what do you think we'll be seeing around video technology and races in three or five years from now. Given the pace at which technology moves, the connectivity, 5G, and all kinds of stuff coming along, where could we be in a few years?
It could be major. We are working on the new codec. I don't know if, for the audience, that would be something too technical, but H.265 codec - which enables us to have higher quality at lower data quantity - will enable us to now film in 4K and have super shots of participants at races. There is also machine learning and AI which we invest in, which the industry generally invests in and is growing a lot. Today, you can have avatars talking like Salvador, looking like Salvador or like Panos, which is also something we see as use for video - like, having a virtual avatar that comments on your race and stuff like that. So, it will become more entertaining, on one end, because you will be able to bring more - as I said, those avatars, those digital worlds, not augmented reality, but virtual reality - into your video. Then, as I said, there is also the augmented reality part where you can also combine certain factors there. In the middle point, there is also simply the operation and the capturing as I said - 4K, high-quality camera, faster upload, 5G network, enabling more, quicker, and more efficient production of such content.
And with all that, I guess also lower costs - at least for the similar thing.
For the similar thing, lower cost. The interesting thing is it will stay at the cost but it will become a cost that is payable for people. Today, we can do 4K, we can do super slow - we have done that. We have races where we have professional camera man's filming. We take the stream from the TV camera and generate personalized clips, but it's just another term of pricing because we're ingesting a much bigger stream - it's much more complex, it's much more heavy, and all that. So, we are already there, but pricing-wise, today, it's just not possible. On the other end, I think, for me, also important to close on that is also making the product as scalable as possible - the self-service part. Our goal in the next year is to reach at least 10,000 events. How do we reach that? We need something that, operationally speaking, is extremely user-friendly. Therefore, our new camera generation is simply a smartphone with our app and a 3D casing. Now, everybody can go to an event and record. We have standard prices where, for a few cents, you can deliver every participant a video. So, this is where we want to go and we think that, in the pricing terms, everybody should be able to offer personalized videos for free at scale.
What you mentioned there about the whole self-service approach is something that people can do today. They can, without too great complication, get the hardware, set it up, you train them, and they basically do the whole thing for a race of any size, wherever they might be in the countries that you serve.
We truly started with self-service this year. The years before, we had selected partners who we worked with. We didn't call that self-service because they were very trained by us and they were very supported by us. But now, since January, we have truly the first self-service customer. I have an event this weekend in Germany. Some media company called me and said, "Hey, we want to do personalized clip. Can I use this phone?" "Yes. Here's the price." And they're doing it this weekend on their own, for a few hundred of Euros. They are now filming - they're in Germany - and doing it by themselves. So, this is now open. We select the customers or partners we're having on the self-service. So, we're calling ourselves feeling better this year and next year is normal, but will be fully open to whoever we can then go on our website, make your login, and order everything like an e-commerce. This year, it's still a bit in the beta phase. We selected two partners. We're happy to receive requests from anybody, from everywhere, and from wherever. It's just that we will be a bit more selective. Next year, it's fully open to everybody.
Awesome. That's great. I think we've covered tons of ground here. I hope we painted a good picture for listeners of the kinds of things you can do today with video technology and being able to produce personalized videos for participants in a very short timeframe. In terms of where people can find a little bit more about iRewind and watch some of those videos we discussed so they can get a better feel for that, where can people find that and how can they reach out to you as well, Salvador?
Yes. They can find us at www.iRewind.com. My name is Salvador Garcia Zalduegui. You can find my contact directly on the website or connect to my LinkedIn. My email address is simply email@example.com. You can reach me there. Reach out to us. You can also reach out to hello@iRewind.com in case you want to make sure that your request goes through because, obviously, as the Head of Operation, every week, I'm somewhere around the globe, which is great, but that gives me a bit less time to quickly respond.
Awesome. Salvador, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to come on and tell us a little bit more about iRewind and the great leaps that the whole video technology space has achieved in mass participation sports. And I want to thank everyone for listening in and we'll see you all on our next podcast!
I hope you enjoyed this episode on iRewind and instant personalized video with my guest iRewind COO, Salvador Garcia Zalduegui.
You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com. You can also share your questions about personalized race video or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.
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Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.