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How Can I Watch Formula One Online?

How Can I Watch Formula One Online?

Watching Formula One online is something a lot of Formula One fans have asked for in recent years, and just prior to the start of the 2008 season, Bernie Ecclestone reached an agreement with UK broadcaster ITV to show races live via the Internet. Three races into the season I feel it is time to look at the services on offer and give my opinions on online viewing.

Online Viewing

Currently, the viewing service is only available to UK residents via the official ITV F1 website. It is free and is definitely a step forward to opening up the sport to more fans, offering more ways to view and enjoy Formula One. It is interesting though, that the announcement came so close to the start of the season, officially unveiled on March 13th, the Thursday before the first race of the year in Australia. The apparent lateness of the announcement leads me to think that it was a long negotiation before Ecclestone’s company could agree to the terms. That is pure speculation, but you would think that had it been easily arranged during the off-season, ITV would have said something sooner to ensure as many people knew about the service as possible.

Did the last-minute announcement mean a poor service for the first race? I think not. There were a few issues last weekend during the Bahrain Grand Prix, which I’ll get onto later in the post, but comparing this to the first race, watching the Australian Grand Prix online was pretty good. I only used the new service to see what it was like, and I primarily viewed the TV for the action; my TV being larger than my laptop screen and having a vastly superior picture quality. But for fans who may be away from the television, the online experience would have certainly sufficed.

ITV have also allowed the footage to be watched up to 30 days after the event. While this isn’t as perfect as a permanent archive, it is definitely good and falls into line with other online TV players, such as the BBC’s iPlayer. I imagine also that Ecclestone is hoping that the introduction of the online viewing will slow down the amount of footage uploaded to popular video-sharing sites like YouTube. I personally can’t this happening as the convenience and potential longevity of YouTube et al vastly outweighs that of the ITV player.

I mentioned earlier that a few people were experiencing problems while viewing the Bahrain Grand Prix, complaining of a long delay and troubles in getting the player to load properly. I didn’t tune in to the ITV site during the race, content with watching on my TV and my monitor taken up with the LiveBlog, Live Timing and the admin area of this site. But from what I’ve read and heard since Sunday, it is possible that given the time of the race was more in tune with British ‘awake hours’, more people went online than they did in Australia or Malaysia. It is perfectly possible that the service was simply overwhelmed. Good news for ITV, less so for the viewers who struggled to watch it.

I’m certain that ITV will do all they can to resolve any issues they may have, the service after all appears to be popular. But one question keeps coming up over and over again. “I don’t live in the UK, how can I watch the race online?” With difficulty, I’m afraid, but it isn’t impossible. It may, however, be illegal.

Some people have had success with using UK-based proxy servers to view the ITV feed online, and others use TVU Network’s online player. TVU often pick up StarSports from Asia and Speed from America. It is a shame that currently, viewing Formula One 100% legally online is limited to just the UK. As far as I’m aware, at any rate. However, now the service has been tried and tested, I’m certain other broadcasters will be knocking at FOM’s door asking for a similar contract to that of ITV.

Live Timing

Aside from viewing the action live, I almost always use Formula One’s official live timing. Available via the F1 website, the live timing screen is a digital-angel during ITV’s advert breaks. Essentially showing users the position order at each sector, as well as lap times, fastest lap, sector times and a basic commentary, I must offer praise to F1 for this. The system is ideal for qualifying as you can see when a driver does a personal-fastest or outright-fastest sector. The service also tells viewers when a car is on an out lap or has stopped on-track.

Live timing is also handy during a race when viewing battles further down the grid. The TV cameras tend to show the most important drivers/battles in the race, which is fair enough. But often there can be some mighty tussles in the midfield that one rarely gets to see. While Live Timing doesn’t show any images, it is possible to tell from this exactly what is happening just from looking at the fluctuation in sector times between drivers. The post-pit stop positions are also made a little easier to figure out with live timing, the positions of each driver shaking out at the passing of sector one on the track.

So if you’re a fan of, say, Anthony Davidson, who rarely gets a showing on the TV, live timing may help you to understand his race a little better.

Live Telemetry

The third online service that I’m yet to really try is Renault’s live data feed. In 2007, the Anglo-French squad published, live, their car’s telemetry. I’m sure it isn’t as detailed as what the team views, but it was, from what others have said, an excellent addition to the whole race experience. I say ‘from what others said’ because last year I didn’t get a chance to view it myself. And now I’m regretting that decision because it would appear the service has declined somewhat in 2008.

As I mentioned in a recent comment, it would be great if all the teams would publish their data to one centralised site, say F1.com, and could be viewed by more fans. It was only last weekend that Fernando Alonso was hit from behind by Lewis Hamilton and sparks started to fly out of the ITV commentary box about brake-testing. As it transpired after the race, Alonso had remained on the throttle pedal and was thus exonerated from any wrong-doing. However, had the service been available (and working sufficiently) then there would have been no question at the time as to what happened. We would have all seen what Renault Technical Director Pat Symonds saw, and thus the accusations wouldn’t have happened.

The Future…?

Formula One is definitely progressing in terms of online viewing, but it still has a long way to go. Live timing has been around for a while and for the best part, works well. ITV’s online broadcasting also, for the best part, works well considering it is only three races young. Of course, it won’t get too old as the BBC will be taking over from ITV in 2009, so we’ll have to reassess their attempts twelve months from now.

The lack of international viewing via the Internet is still a drawback though. During my stint of modding F1Fanatic’s LiveBlog, I was asked by a visitor from India how he could watch online. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help him too much simply because the services aren’t yet available. And if they are I doubt their legality at the moment. It would be a masterstroke of genius if Bernie Ecclestone could aggregate online viewing, live timing and car telemetry into one online service that didn’t fall over at the merest hint of a spike in traffic. Until then though, we’ll have to put up the slow-pace at which the current services are implemented and improved upon.

A few links:

Update

Courtesy of Jesús Dugarte who wrote a post about viewing Formula One online (in Spanish), I am now aware you can also view animations of races via the VisionF1 website. While it isn’t quite the same as watching the actual action, it is quite neat. Replays, at the time of writing, go as far back as Germany 2005.

Update 2

Now that the BBC has taken over the broadcasting of Formula One to British audiences, the ITV feeds no longer work. However, the BBC are showing sessions online via their iPlayer. It is only available for UK residents, and those not residing in Britain have few options. Although perhaps not entirely legal, JustinTV and TVU often have Formula One on one of their channels.

Oliver White

26 comments

  • Since TV broadcast rights bring in so much of F1’s revenue, you can be sure that folks like Ecclestone are keeping a close eye on the potential for a web-based audience, especially considering how prevalent watching television (either pirated or not) on the web is.

    Without a coherant online strategy, they risk losing their major revenue source as more viewers revert to pirated streams or downloads. Even though at the moment I download the races right after they have run (with the advantage of no ad breaks, being able to pause, rewind etc.), I would easily pay $10-20 per race to watch a multi-camera online stream with digital telemetry, different commentary streams etc.

    A lot of the technology to allow viewers to pick any camera view (eg. any of the cars, follow a particular car etc.) is already in place, it just needs to be bought together in a good online package. Better yet, F1 could manage this themselves and take the revenue directly without going through broadcasters.

  • F1 could manage this themselves and take the revenue directly without going through broadcasters.

    Exactly, Nik. It would be a win/win situation for fans and Bernie, and as F1’s Live Timing is reasonably good, I feel they could run a system like you described fairly easily.

    I was about to say, “if ITV can do it then so can FOM”, but I won’t because that would be foolish. But I’m certain they could do this and be successful with it.

  • I would add that I think if we were to be allowed a whole host of onboard cameras, etc then we would really need to be allowed to re-watch the action “as live” (ie with all telemetry, live timing etc running in-sync with the pictures as you watched). I know ITV allow you to watch races over and over for 30 days, but whether having all that other stuff saved is a problem I don’t know.

    Would certainly slow down their streaming even more!

    Leaving the FIA/FOM to sort this all out may not be the best plan, as has been said before it all needs to be orchestrated and co-ordinated into a proper coherent package. Judging by the state of the F1 rulebook I’m not sure Max and Bernie are the men for the job!

  • I used twice the Kangaroo TV at races. I have to say, if we have access to at least those features online, watching F1 would be totally different experience … The feeds are out there, I really do not understand why FOM does make them available …

    The broadcasting rights should not be a problem. Whoever buys the rights for F1 for certain territory can buy just the quali and race or the whole package. If they do not buy the whole package, FOM may sell the rest to someone else or provide it for that territory on pay per view basis from F1.com site. This is being done by other sports, so it can be done … Just someone would have to want to do it …

  • My main gripe with ITV is that it thinks Derbyshire is not in the UK, so I have to use methods that are not 100% legal despite living in an area where legal on-line viewing should be easy 🙁 TVU works well for me, but I could see a large market for an ad-free, £3-5 per race (upper end of the structure for better quality and/or with commentary from host of choice) structure working well for the FOM. However, it looks doomed to repeat the mistakes of the music industry by spending more time enforcing the law than acting to make breaking the law unnecessary.

  • My main gripe with ITV is that it thinks Derbyshire is not in the UK, so I have to use [other] methods

    Seriously? That is insane! Have you written to ITV to complain?

    However, it looks doomed to repeat the mistakes of the music industry by spending more time enforcing the law than acting to make breaking the law unnecessary.

    I think that is a little presumptuous, but I totally understand why you said it. The music industry are not the best example of this kind of thing, and to put it bluntly, they ballsed it up big time, almost beyond repair.

    I say it is a little presumptuous though as no one has tried this in F1 yet. However, given FOM’s stance on online content (and I presume it is FOM requesting removal of videos from YouTube et al), they haven’t started out well. In my opinion, online viewing of races should have been around years ago. By now the service should incorporate all the things mentioned in the post and in the comments.

    Alas, Bernie is getting a bit slow in his old age. That or he needs to recruit some better advisors. The technology has been around for a while, so there really is no excuse not to do what the fans want. As a few have said here and elsewhere, we’d even pay if it was top-notch.

  • @doctorvee: Welcome to my world, except that in my world Keith is my adversary. Mwuhahaha! 😀

    Take a different viewpoint if you feel you don’t want to (in your own words) repeat this post. (That was a poorly written sentence, but you know what I mean 😉 ) Argue that online content takes away from team revenues because perhaps the sponsors don’t count the logo views from online viewers. Or that in a sport where detail is so very important, the quality of online televisual broadcasting just isn’t ready for Formula One. Or that it would simply be too costly to do, given that the sport is meant to be cost-cutting at the moment.

    Or you could just offer your own thoughts on online viewing.

    I feel another post coming on, but I’ll wait ’til Monday, just in case. 😉

  • Bernie just might decide not to post streams online. Here’s my logic: Sure, Bernie can bypass the broadcasters, but what if he starts taking viewers away from his own broadcasters? If that happens, ad revenue will go down, and the broadcasters won’t be able to pay him as much. It might still end up being a net loss for him. For him to make up for that, he’ll have to charge a significant fee on the stream (maybe around £5 – £10 a race), which wouldn’t be too popular with any new viewers and probably make them turn away from the stream. I could be wrong, but that’s my thoughts.

  • While we’re on the subject, I thought I’d share some stats from the mad-max sites, which had a hacked ITV player that worked outside of the UK. I put the page up maybe 2 hours before Practice 1 on Friday. By Friday night, there had been 5000+ unique visitors. Before the race on Sunday, 10000+ unique visitors. A few hours after the race, there had been 18000+ visitors over the weekend, comprising 45000 hits. Around 6000 visitors came from Poland, the largest share from any single country. I feel bad that ITV is having to shoulder a global bandwidth load for these people (most/all of whom don’t pay a UK license fee). But–I’d pay ITV $5-10 to stream or download their coverage. I’m sure they wouldn’t take it (though I’ve never offered).

    What is really needed is a *global* streaming service administrated by FOM (like live timing is). American sports leagues have been doing this for years–I assume that the barrier for F1 is that contracts with broadcasters need to be renegotiated (because broadcasters want exclusive rights for their geographic territory, and the ‘net would open that up). Also, Bernie has to decide how much to charge ;-0.

  • @Journeyer: Your thoughts a great, thanks for commenting.

    If that happens, ad revenue will go down, and the broadcasters won’t be able to pay him as much.

    But couldn’t Bernie just organise these ads for himself? I’m not entirely certain how it all works, but if ad revenue for traditional broadcasters declines, then that is their problem. The clients could just pay Bernie directly for sponsorship. ‘Live Online Viewing from FOM and ING/Santander/whoever’…

    …but we do still need the TV, at the moment at least anyway. You have a point Journeyer.

    he’ll have to charge […] which wouldn’t be too popular with any new viewers

    True. I’m rabbiting on about willing to pay for everything because I think it’d worth it, but I guess the majority of fans wouldn’t be. There needs to be a happy medium somehow.

    @everyone: Great comments so far guys and gals. Keep the ideas coming, we’ll sort out online F1 viewing eventually! 🙂

  • @mad-max:

    Around 6000 visitors came from Poland

    Ah, the Kubica-effect. I wonder if the Poles have hyped their star as much as the British media have hyped Hamilton?

    I feel bad that ITV is having to shoulder a global bandwidth load for these people (most/all of whom don’t pay a UK license fee).

    Regarding the UK TV license, this only applies to the BBC and their services. ITV are a commercial network, thus they are funded through externally-sourced advertising. For 2008, the ITV F1 show is sponsored by Sony. The license and fee has nothing to do with ITV, but Sony’s funds do. Your point stands though, it’s all money at the end of the day.

    What is really needed is a *global* streaming service

    Yes, I agree. Although as mentioned, this would require a lot from the current broadcasting rights holders from each country, which I imagine will not be an easy thing to achieve now contracts are in place.

  • The model here is Major League Baseball, which broadcasts every game (that’s about 2000 a year) live on the Internet in high definition 1.5mbps streams …. it can be done.

    I’m sure FOM could come up with some sort of DRM/ fee structure that would make it acceptable to the home broadcaster.

    Take the premise that someone would rather watch F1 free than on their laptops (except, perhaps for hardcore fans who prefer more advanced features), only a small fraction of eyeballs will be diverted to the net (again one can price discriminate further by having different tiers of packages).

    Also another mechanism to keep the TV companies happy is, say, to donate a percentage of the broadcast fee to the home TV company to ensure they aren’t out of pocket.

    It can (and should) be done.

  • Ollie, I’ve now written to both ITV (who supply the service) and Brightcove (who created the player) and await their responses.

    Free-to-view coverage will be necessary to go alongside the paid offering because most people cannot justify the price of a properly-done F1 broadcast. Ironically, Brightcove do supply a facility to add online video ads. My guess is that ad-free viewing is ITV’s ultimate supply point at this time, in order to gauge demand for the service (which appears to be pretty high). However, it does point to a possible route for a post-terrestrial TV financial model that would be easy for traditional thinkers such as Bernie to implement; free-with-ads-and-maybe-no-commentary for the majority and ad-free and well-commentated for those willing to pay.

    Highlights clips would be freely available on YouTube and similar services as well as centrally at Formula1.com.

    If Bernie can make more money by cutting out the middleman, he would do it the instant his mindset changed to allow him to do so. Until then, nothing will happen on the official internet front. It is definitely FOM that is requesting all post-1980 clips be removed from YouTube, though they go through a specialist intellectual property rights enforcement firm because the internet is so big.

    The music industry has been clamping down on copying since cassettes began being swapped on a large scale in the early 1980s. Metallica became a big band by exploiting this illegal copying, which made it all the more ironic when they sided with the big music companies in the late 1990s when MP3 and the first wave of peer-to-peer servers hit the mainstream. It took until 2004 for a legal method of downloading music (iTunes) to be created. It is this corporate inertia that is still damaging their sales now (though that in part is due to inertia in the music they release and the marketing methods used as well as to distribution channels).

    If, on the other hand, the music industry had seen what a brilliant business opportunity the peer-to-peer networks and MP3 represented at an early stage, they would have been at the stage they are now in about 2002, and by now could have made a fully-functioning business platform at least the equal of the traditional methods of making money (witness Amazon in relation to books and eBay in relation to auctions – even Google in relation to text information).

    The thing is that F1 is still five years behind the music industry, having taken exactly the same path so far (in almost the same timeframe) to get to where it is now. This similarity of history is why I feel I can project a similarity of future if F1 continues on its present course.

  • Update: I am pleased to report that Brightcove have already responded to my email about ITV’s player not recognising my computer as being from the UK. They are investigating and the email was written in a way that made it clear it had been done by a human being. This is good news 🙂 .

  • It amazes me that I can’t get an internet feed of any kind legally in the US. I have subscriptions to Football World and MLB, both of which work great. You would have thought Bernie would have found a way to deliver this to us by now. Could it be he felt so burned by the digital package a few years ago that he is unwilling to embrace internet technology?

    On a related note, I’m very envious of those who are looking forward to F1 returning to the BBC because there will be no commercials. I can’t tell you how many times important stuff happens that we miss in the States because of the required commercial breaks.

  • I can’t tell you how many times important stuff happens that we miss in the States because of the required commercial breaks.

    We get that here in the UK as well. There have been a few shocking moments over the years when ITV cut to an advert break, only to return and be forced to show a replay of some amazing overtaking move for the lead of the race.

  • iPlayer works perfectly for me (had great fun watching the latest Doctor Who episode yesterday), which supports my theory that it’s the Brightcove end of things that’s malfunctioning. My ISP is TalkTalk, which is a UK network which (to the best of my knowledge) only uses UK servers. I also don’t use Web accelerators or that sort of thing when browsing.

    UPDATE: Brightcove have sent me some debugging software, which I’ve used. Now I just have to wait for a reply to see what the debugging software tells them. They take technical problems seriously. ITV hasn’t so much as acknowledged my original e-mail so far.

  • @Alianora: It’s nice when some companies actually respond to your queries. I’m not surprised by ITV’s lack of response. It may not be their problem to solve, but they could have at least replied with a “we’ve forwarded this to Brightcove who are dealing with it” message. Let us know if you can view the Spanish Grand Prix or not.

  • Update: Whatever Brightcove did, it worked! I have just watched the first Friday practise for the Spanish Grand Prix with no problems whatsoever. I’m going to e-mail Brightcove and thank them for their efforts.

    Incidentally, they have two theories for why I was having a problem. Either my security settings were too high or my typical IP address range (I have a floating IP, since fixed IPs are slightly more expensive with most ISPs) wasn’t in Brightcove’s database. Given that I didn’t need to change my security settings, I can only assume Brightcove updated its IP address list.

  • BlogF1 cannot guarantee the legality of such services like Mininova, and users are urged to check this out before they go ahead and download. (Disclaimer over!) But as Ken says, there are some places on the ‘net where the race can be downloaded afterwards. Google is your friend.

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