04/06/2010 12:00AM

Opportunity knocks, but will racing answer?


TUCSON, Ariz. - My kid Al e-mailed the other day, and in the course of his message he casually mentioned that he was taking advanced mandolin lessons from one of the world's great players, Dudu Maia.

Knowing that Maia was an outstanding band leader of choro music and a very cool professor of music theory at the state university in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, I asked Al how he was taking lessons from him.

Before I share his answer, which has much to do with racing, let me explain that the kid is not a kid, except to me and his mother. He was born in 1953, two years before American horse racing decided to pass on the newfangled attraction, television, worrying that it would take away customers. Football and baseball quickly grabbed the chance.

Al started in photography as a real kid, going to photography school, taking pictures of yearlings in the ring at yearling sales where I was auctioneer, and selling them to the new owners. He moved to Seattle, helped create and then left a commercial photography company, went to work for Radio Shack, took a job running a 500-computer network for a subsidiary of Eli Lilly, and then one day getting a call from Microsoft. He retired at 50, leaving the old man working 24/7. I told him he was violating obscenity laws, but he scoffed. Now he's making documentaries with his own company.

Television, meanwhile, now ignores racing, instead of the other way around.

Our own racing networks feature unimaginative, repetitive round after round of racing. Come to think of it, that's what racing offers both TV and our live and simulcast customers these days. There is little creativity on our networks and no surplus of quality in professional talent. And less and less racing to televise.

There are infrequent network bright spots with the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup and events of that quality, but they are few and far between.

I mentioned to Al about racing's first early mistake when he was 2, and he told me racing was on the verge of blowing another one. He asked how many more major mistakes it could survive. I asked him what we were missing this time. He told me, at length.

"YouTube and its competitor Vimeo and the rise of cheap high definition television and low cost global video teleconferencing via Skype is radically changing what we think of as communications and collaboration. We are in the beginning of what I think is the next wave. It is leading to the end of television as we know it. Video teleconferencing via Skype and high resolution cameras is how I take music lessons from Brazil, incidentally.

"The next wave is all about self-production, and vast channels, as you and I think of channels. There will be huge new fortunes made in this shift, but not in the way we think of them being made.

"The best way to think of it is that expertise and content is king, with distribution being traditional TV, radio, Internet radio, podcast, movie, YouTube, written word, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, and every computer on the planet.

"People like me no longer watch traditional TV. We watch what we want to on demand. I subscribe to things I want to watch, whether the New York Times, The Daily Show, Atlantic Monthly, blogs, video channels on Youtube, etc. I don't want to pay a cable TV station to pump me pap when I want quality.

"I'll simply go online and get what I want. And I also create my own content, using a blog, video and audio recording.

"I think this is as exciting a time as has existed. It will end in something we can't even imagine just yet. There definitely is a new kind of thinking taking hold around the globe, and it's about getting what you want when you see it happening. There are some really beautiful productions coming out of this, in places where tyrants are suppressing the news, like Burma and Africa.

"The horse is most definitely out of the barn. Always a new challenge. A very exciting time to be working in media."

Or in racing, if you get the kid's message. This is not your grandfather's racing. If Al is right, racing better adjust and adapt, and grab a good hold in this new world order of social networking. We can't afford to miss another boat.