It may be the off-season for Formula One, but currently there is a very important forum taking place in Monaco, and involving many key people from within the sport and the world of business, future possibilities and direction changes are being presented and discussed. While the Motor Sport Business Forum may not immediately sound like a lot of fun, what is being debated is very interesting, particularly as some contributors are new to the sport and/or new to the fans.
One of the first areas of interest to be discussed and widely reported in the media is that of the media itself. What made the quotes coming out of Monaco all the more enticing though is that it wasn’t the traditional media in the spotlight, and instead the focus appeared to be more on the Internet and how Formula One is broadcast and viewed around the world.
Many of Formula One’s fans have access to the Internet and although I don’t have an exact number, I’m am certain that it is expected to grow in the next few years. This is also the feeling of many of the sport’s promoters as well as individuals and companies that have an interest in new media. And with an increase in popularity of the Internet, as well as advances continuously being made in how information can be made available and digested via a phone line, much of Formula One currently looks a bit antiquated.
I have long been advocating further use of the Internet by Formula One, and in comparison to other sports and even other disciplines within the field of motor sport, Formula One is only just beginning to catch on. The sport’s former UK broadcaster ITV only started showing live footage online in 2008, and the BBC have continued with this during their first year back in 2009. However, because of the way broadcasting contracts are dealt with, it isn’t necessarily up to Bernie Ecclestone to enforce this to happen.
What this means is that although UK viewers have the luxury of being able to watch the sport via the Internet, including sessions not broadcast via the television (free practices), some countries still do not allow this. It is up to the individual broadcasting company to initiate online viewing, and this is something I feel to be wrong.
Although the idea may not be popular with the traditional broadcasters, it is my belief that all online viewing should be provided and hosted by Formula One itself. FOM should be streaming every session and race from the official site, and this could then be incorporated with the existing Live Timing application. Of course, I say this may not be widely popular because it would detract from the BBC’s effort and others who have already invested considerable sums of money into their own service.
Other issues include commentary and pre/post-race shows. I hasten to add that the only other sport I tend to watch online is surfing, simply because it isn’t available via terrestrial channels in the UK. Yesterday evening I viewed some footage from a contest being held at Waimea Bay in Hawaii, complete with American commentary. Although I am not certain where the onscreen graphics came from, the official site appeared to be the only place on the Internet showing the footage legitimately to an international audience. And if the world of surfing can do this, I’m sure Formula One can.
If bringing the online experience together in one location proves too tricky for Ecclestone to achieve – and there is more on this later – Formula One could do similar to surfing. I mention above that footage from Waimea Bay was broadcast on the official site, but it wasn’t the ASP World Tour site (equivalent to F1.com), but instead the ASP linked out to the event’s official website. Transferring this idea to Formula One, the least Bernie could do is link out to the BBC’s iPlayer and similar from the official site. Or, perhaps finding some middle ground, the Grands Prix websites could host the streaming, perhaps with access to and integration with Formula One’s Live Timing application.
Having said all that though, Bernie Ecclestone will need to given a thorough shake first, and told to get his existing services running properly in the first place. I do watch Formula One online via the BBC’s iPlayer, primarily because I update this site during the sessions. I have the iPlayer and Live Timing on one screen, with BlogF1 and other applications running on another. Believe it or not ladies, male Formula One fans tend to be quite good at multi-tasking.
However, although Live Timing has shown to be a great asset to myself and many, many others, it doesn’t always work. And this is a key issue for me and pushing Bernie to further develop the sport online. I am certain that Live Timing is fairly complex – not the actual gathering of information because that is already there, but instead the broadcasting of that information via the site. I have never sat on the pitwall during a race, but I don’t imagine for a second the teams suffer the same delays, hangs and stalls in the system as we fans do (aside from in Hungary earlier this year). Therefore, I would guess that the problem lies instead with the website, the server/s and the number of people trying to access the information all at the same time.
If and when Bernie Ecclestone can bring himself to part with a little cash to get the Live Timing running reliably, then maybe he should spend some time thinking about how else he can promote the sport that made him the multi-billionaire that I’m sure he is today.
So what was said in Monaco?
One of the key people pushing Formula One to invest further in the online world was the man who is apparently sniffing around Renault at the moment. Aside from hoping to purchase the Renault squad from the French car manufacturer, Gerard Lopez spoke at the forum, suggesting that now is a time for change within the sport. Lopez spoke of encouraging people to invest in the sport and for Formula One to be reaching out to the fans as well as the very people who might want to become involved.
Stuart Codling, a contributor to F1 Racing and Autosport, has recently set up his very own little place on the Internet, and the man is in Monaco right now attending the forum. Stuart has been busy publishing many of the presentations/quotes made along with a few of his own thoughts and insights. I won’t copy down all of the quotes – they run on a fair amount – but instead I encourage you to head over and read everything that was said when you get a spare five minutes. It certainly makes for interesting reading. For now though, here are a few highlights…
The business opportunities in F1 lie very rarely in making money out of your team; they should lie in making money out of the business platform that you have. Gerard Lopez, Mangrove Capital Partners.
The teams can bring the sport closer to the audience. The sport and its environment is going to be forced to change. Gerard Lopez, Mangrove Capital Partners.
Most of the broadcast contracts are based on a way of looking at things from 15, 20, 25 years ago. The fact is that in three or fours years’ time, most people in a lot of countries will be watching it not on TV as we know it today, but over the internet. And that completely redefines how you negotiate contracts and how you distribute content. Gerard Lopez, Mangrove Capital Partners.
We’ve invested heavily in helping media organisations, and especially sports companies who invest vast amounts of money on content rights, to look at different ways of being able to monetise those rights. Primarily that’s through digital media. Neville Wheeler, Cisco Media Solutions Group.
As we all know, motorsport has a global audience, and we’ve got to a point now where you can have any content any time, anywhere in the world on any device. Neville Wheeler, Cisco Media Solutions Group.
Social media is a fantastic way of reaching an audience and keeping them excited on a day-to-day basis. There’s a massive opportunity. But whatever you do, it has to be accessible and reasonably priced. Tony Fernandes, Lotus F1.
I’ll finish up with just one final thought: These people (quoted above) want Formula One to develop into new areas, to be promoted on differing mediums and to be more open and accessible to a wider group of potential fans and investors. They all seem to think it can work, but at the end of the day, the commercial side of the sport is still run by a Mr Bernard Ecclestone. Do you think Formula One and primarily it’s broadcasting and marketing will ever drag itself into the 21st Century? Will Bernie ever learn how to program the VCR…