Auto racing fans probably thought the new perspective made all the difference. There they were, spinning around a race track at 200 mph.
The striking camera shot from the driver's perspective began to appear on television about 10 years ago, through two Australian expatriates who later founded the Crofton, Md.-based company Broadcast Sports Technologies, which designs and installs small, remote-operated video cameras to fit in even the lightest and most compact racing cars.
Broadcast Sports Technologies, formed seven years ago, is one of a few companies in the nation that can outfit racing cars with such cameras, but it has a lock on the major racing circuits, company vice president Peter Larsson said.
Broadcast Sports, which is hired by whatever network is airing a particular race to install and operate the in-car cameras, also handles other sports events, such as the Boston Marathon and the America's Cup sailing race. But auto racing, Larsson said, is the company's "bread and butter."
Having done only $500 worth of advertising since its formation, Broadcast Sports has contracts to work on 42 of the 46 major car races held annually in this country. And its founders say it has made a profit every year since it was founded.
But with nowhere else to go in auto racing, the company needs to broaden its horizons if it plans to grow beyond eight full-time employees, a few free-lancers and annual revenue of $1.5 million, Larsson said.
"There's no other major league in racing that we could move into ... We are thinking of developing our own equipment and selling that," Larsson said. "We would also like to diversify into other arenas. There are a lot of areas that you cannot fit a cameraman but would want a remote control camera."
Unlike regular hand-held TV cameras, a remote-control camera requires no cable -- signals are sent by microwave technology to a main broadcasting center, or occasionally by satellite. So any sport with a moving subject would be a candidate: There is a big market to use remote cameras to follow lead runners in marathons or professional golfers, for example.
"These days it's limited to our imagination what we can do," Larsson said, although money can be a limiting factor.
Larsson said races usually have three to six cars outfitted with remote cameras, each worth about $30,000, a cost Broadcast Sports must cover if the camera is damaged in a wreck. The company has "been through some pretty horrendous wrecks, but luckily ... only sustained minor damage," he said.
It costs a television network about $30,000 to hire Broadcast Sports for all its services at a single car race, while the Boston Marathon, which required the use of three helicopters and three ground vehicles, cost about $50,000, and the America's Cup race, which was even more complicated, cost about $100,000, Larsson said.
Still, the networks welcome companies such as Broadcast Sports, he said, because they can hire an outsider for specialty camera work that would be more costly -- or even impossible -- with its own unionized workers. While Broadcast Sports Technologies has benefited from the television industry's recent emphasis on the bottom line, Larsson said, the market still is limited.
"Companies like this carve a niche for themselves because it's tough to compete with the big people," said Michael Grotticelli, managing editor of Videography Magazine, a publication for video professionals. Small video companies try "to find a very specialized camera, so there's no competition ... The problem is they reach their ceiling, and they try to look elsewhere, but they're right back in the big pond again."
There are as many as 1,000 niche companies in the U.S. video industry, and Grotticelli said this happens to all of them. Eventually they find a way to market their products elsewhere and open up to new markets, or they stagnate.
John Porter, president of Broadcast Sports, said the company continues to grow by 20 percent a year -- so fast, in fact, that it is difficult to find enough qualified employees.
That may change with the release last week of the Tom Cruise racing movie "Days of Thunder." Broadcast Sports provided the movie's producers with some of the equipment they needed to shoot scenes at the Indianapolis 500 and the Phoenix 500.